Cardiac and skeletal muscle development, differentiation, and function
Congenital heart anomalies are the most common form of birth defect in the United States, affecting nearly one percent of all babies, yet the molecular and developmental basis for these defects is largely unknown. Tissues and organs form during mammalian embryonic development because of the integration of numerous signaling and transcriptional pathways. Our major goal is to define these pathways in order to understand the molecular causes of congenital anomalies and potential mechanisms for organ regeneration and repair. Using the mouse as a model system, the current work in the lab is focused on defining the pathways regulating the development of cardiac and skeletal muscle, the vascular endothelium, and neural crest. Specific projects focus on the regulation and function of genes that are known to be critical for cardiac development. These include Mef2c, Islet1, Gata4, Bmp4, and Fgf8. Each of these genes is involved in cardiac development, and we are defining their regulation and function specifically during the formation of the cardiac outflow tract, one of the most commonly and severely affected regions of the heart observed in babies. The long-term scientific goal of these studies is to define the how tissues and cells are integrated during organogenesis and how cells receive and interpret positional information. We are using a combination of conditional gene knockouts, transgenic reporter assays, and fate mapping techniques in mice to define the embryological origins of the outflow tract and the reciprocal signaling between tissues that is required for proper heart development. The ultimate goal of these studies is to development diagnostic and therapeutic interventions for birth defects of the heart and other organ systems.