N-cadherin is crucial for heart formation in the chick embryo


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The developing heart primordium strongly expresses N-cadherin. In order to investigate the role of this adhesion molecule in heart morphogenesis, chicken embryos were cultured at stages 5–12, and injected with anti-N-cadherin antibodies that can specifically block the activity of this cadherin. In the injected embryos, the epimyocardial layers, which develop bilaterally from the splanchnic mesoderm, did not fuse to form a single cardiac tube. Moreover, each of the unfused layers became fragmented into epithelioid clusters. At the cellular level, large intercellular gaps were observed in the antibody-treated myocardial layers. These disorganized myocardial layers beat to some extent, suggesting that their differentiation was not blocked; however, their contraction was not coordinated. Morphogenesis of other tissues, not only N-cadherin-negative but also N-cadherin-positive tissues, such as the neural tube and notochord, proceeded normally even in the presence of anti-N-cadherin antibodies. These results suggest that N-cadherin is indispensable for heart formation, but not for morphogenesis of the other tissues, at the developmental stages examined. For the latter processes, expression of other cadherin subtypes presumably compensated for the loss of N-cadherin activity.