Cardiac failure affects 1.5% of the adult population and is predominantly caused by myocardial dysfunction secondary to coronary vascular insufficiency. Current therapeutic strategies improve prognosis only modestly, as the primary cause – loss of normally functioning cardiac myocytes – is not being corrected. Adult cardiac myocytes are unable to divide and regenerate to any significant extent following injury. New cardiac myocytes are, however, created during embryogenesis from progenitor cells and then by cell division from existing cardiac myocytes. This process is intimately linked to the development of coronary vasculature from progenitors originating in the endothelium, the proepicardial organ and neural crest. In this review, we systematically evaluate approx. 90 mouse mutations that impair heart muscle growth during development. These studies provide genetic evidence for interactions between myocytes, endothelium and cells derived from the proepicardial organ and the neural crest that co-ordinate myocardial and coronary vascular development. Conditional knockout and transgenic rescue experiments indicate that Vegfa, Bmpr1a (ALK3), Fgfr1/2, Mapk14 (p38), Hand1, Hand2, Gata4, Zfpm2 (FOG2), Srf and Txnrd2 in cardiac myocytes, Rxra and Wt1 in the proepicardial organ, EfnB2, Tek, Mapk7, Pten, Nf1 and Casp8 in the endothelium, and Bmpr1a and Pax3 in neural crest cells are key molecules controlling myocardial development. Coupling of myocardial and coronary development is mediated by BMP (bone morphogenetic protein), FGF (fibroblast growth factor) and VEGFA (vascular endothelial growth factor A) signalling, and also probably involves hypoxia. Pharmacological targeting of these molecules and pathways could, in principle, be used to recreate the embryonic state and achieve coupled myocardial and coronary vascular regeneration in failing hearts.

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