, Volume 201, Issue 2, pp 103-109

Immunolocalization of the transcription factor Slug in the developing avian heart

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Slug is a transcription factor involved in processes such as the formation of mesoderm and neural crest, two developmental events that imply a transition from an epithelial to a mesenchymal phenotype. During late cardiac morphogenesis, mesenchymal cells originate from two epithelia – epicardial mesothelium and cushion endocardium. We aimed to check if Slug is expressed in these systems of epithelial-mesenchymal transition. We have immunolocated the Slug protein in the heart of quail embryos between Hamburger and Hamilton stages HH16 and HH30. In the proepicardium (the epicardial primordium), Slug was detected in most cells, mesothelial as well as mesenchymal. Slug immunoreactivity was strong in the mesenchyme of the endocardial cushions and subepicardium from its inception until HH24, but the immunoreactivity disappeared in later embryos. Only a small portion of the endocardial cells located in the areas of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (atrioventricular groove and outflow tract) were immunolabelled, mainly between HH16 and HH20. Endocardial cells from other cardiac segments were always negative, except for a transient, weak immunoreactivity that coincided with the development of the intertrabecular sinusoids of the ventricle. In contrast, virtually all cells of the epicardial mesothelium were immunoreactive until stage HH24. The mesenchymal cells that migrate to the heart through the spina vestibuli were also conspicuously immunoreactive. The myocardium was not labelled in the stages studied. Our results stress the involvement of Slug in the epithelial to mesenchymal transition. We suggest that Slug can constitute a reliable marker of the cardiac epithelial cells that are competent to transform into mesenchyme as well as a transient marker of the epithelial-derived mesenchymal cells in the developing heart.

Accepted: 16 August 1999