We previously reported that combined treatment with bone morphogenetic protein-2 (BMP-2) and fibroblast growth factor-4 (FGF-4) induces cardiogenic events culminating in full cardiac differentiation of non-precardiac mesoderm explanted from stage 6 avian embryos (Lough et al.  Dev. Biol. 178:198–202.). To elucidate the respective functions of BMP and FGF in initiating and maintaining the cardiogenic process, we have used these ectopic cells as a cardiac specification model to ascertain requirements for growth factor specificity and extent of application, as well as induction of cardiac transcription factors. The inability of some BMP isoforms to replace the inductive activity of BMPs-2/4 indicated a specific requirement for this signaling pathway; moreover, neither activin-A nor insulin, which support terminal differentiation of precardiac mesoderm, nor leukocyte inhibitory factor (LIF), which promotes hypertrophy in cardiac myocytes, could replace BMP's cardiogenic activity. A similarly specific requirement for FGF-2/4 signaling was revealed since neither FGF-7, activin-A nor insulin could replace this activity. The effect of both factors was concentration-dependent; maximal incidence of explant differentiation for each occurred at 50 ng/ml. Surprisingly, the majority of explants treated with high BMP levels (250 ng/ml) exhibited a non-cardiac phenotype that was characterized by intense expression of alkaline phosphatase, suggesting differentiation toward an alternative mesodermal phenotype. Experiments to assess the duration of exposure to each factor that was required revealed that while exposure to BMP and FGF during only the initial 30 min of a 48-hr culture period was sufficient to induce cardiogenesis in a significant percentage of explants, 100% incidence of explant differentiation was obtained only when FGF treatment was restricted to the first 30 min and BMP was continuously present during the 48-hr culture period. Treatment with both growth factors was required to induce the cardiac transcription factors cNkx-2.5 and SRF; neither mRNA was induced by BMP or FGF alone. These findings indicate that: (1) specific members of the BMP and FGF families are required to induce cardiogenesis in non-precardiac mesoderm; (2) BMPs-2/4 may function as a morphogen; (3) brief application of both factors can induce cardiogenesis in a modest number of explants whereas (4) 100% incidence of explant differentiation can only be attained by brief FGF treatment combined with continuous BMP treatment and (5) both factors are necessary to induce downstream cardiac transcription factors. These findings are interpreted in terms of these factors' possible roles during cardiac specification and differentiation. Dev Dyn;218:383–393. © 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.