Initiation of apoptosis in the developing avian outflow tract myocardium



Apoptosis occurs within the cardiac outflow tract (OFT) myocardium during normal development of chick hearts. This peak of apoptosis occurs at stage 30–31 and coincides with dramatic remodeling of the OFT, suggesting that apoptosis occurs to allow proper alignment of the great vessels over their respective ventricles. The signals that initiate apoptosis in this setting are unknown. The aim of this study was to characterize the cells undergoing apoptosis in the cardiac OFT myocardium and the cells that may influence this process. Two cell populations that may initiate apoptosis of the cardiomyocytes are the cardiac neural crest (CNC) cells and epicardial cells. We examined stage 30–31 chick embryos that had undergone removal of the CNC cells or had delayed epicardial growth for alterations of apoptosis. Removal of the CNC cells did not reduce the levels or pattern of apoptosis in the OFT myocardium. In contrast, impeding the growth of the epicardium over the OFT resulted in a 57% reduction in apoptotic cells in the OFT myocardium. Analysis of the apoptotic cells within the OFT myocardium showed that as many as 92% of them expressed cardiomyocyte markers. In the quail, the endothelial marker QH1 identified a component from the epicardium, endothelial cells, in regions where apoptosis is elevated in the OFT myocardium. These results suggest that a component from the epicardium, possibly endothelial cells, is required for the initiation of apoptosis in OFT cardiomyocytes. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.