In vertebrate embryos, cardiac precursor cells of the primary heart field are specified in the lateral mesoderm. These cells converge at the ventral midline to form the linear heart tube, and give rise to the atria and the left ventricle. The right ventricle and the outflow tract are derived from an adjacent population of precursors known as the second heart field. In addition, the cardiac neural crest contributes cells to the septum of the outflow tract to separate the systemic and the pulmonary circulations. The amphibian heart has a single ventricle and an outflow tract with an incomplete spiral septum; however, it is unknown whether the cardiac neural crest is also involved in outflow tract septation, as in amniotes. Using a combination of tissue transplantations and molecular analyses in Xenopus we show that the amphibian outflow tract is derived from a second heart field equivalent to that described in birds and mammals. However, in contrast to what we see in amniotes, it is the second heart field and not the cardiac neural crest that forms the septum of the amphibian outflow tract. In Xenopus, cardiac neural crest cells remain confined to the aortic sac and arch arteries and never populate the outflow tract cushions. This significant difference suggests that cardiac neural crest cell migration into the cardiac cushions is an amniote-specific characteristic, presumably acquired to increase the mass of the outflow tract septum with the evolutionary need for a fully divided circulation.
- Accepted February 24, 2011.