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Keywords:

  • Canonical Wnt signaling;
  • Insulin signaling;
  • Human pluripotent stem cells;
  • Mesendoderm;
  • Cardiac mesoderm

Abstract

The study of the regulatory signaling hierarchies of human heart development is limited by a lack of model systems that can reproduce the precise developmental events that occur during human embryogenesis. The advent of human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC) technology and robust cardiac differentiation methods affords a unique opportunity to monitor the full course of cardiac induction in vitro. Here, we show that stage-specific activation of insulin signaling strongly inhibited cardiac differentiation during a monolayer-based differentiation protocol that used transforming growth factor β superfamily ligands to generate cardiomyocytes. However, insulin did not repress cardiomyocyte differentiation in a defined protocol that used small molecule regulators of canonical Wnt signaling. By examining the context of insulin inhibition of cardiomyocyte differentiation, we determined that the inhibitory effects by insulin required Wnt/β-catenin signaling and that the cardiomyocyte differentiation defect resulting from insulin exposure was rescued by inhibition of Wnt/β-catenin during the cardiac mesoderm (Nkx2.5+) stage. Thus, insulin and Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathways, as a network, coordinate to influence hPSC differentiation to cardiomyocytes, with the Wnt/β-catenin pathway dominant to the insulin pathway. Our study contributes to the understanding of the regulatory hierarchies of human cardiomyocyte differentiation and has implications for modeling human heart development. STEM CELLS2013;31:447–457