The degree to which populations of cardiac progenitors (CPCs) persist in the postnatal heart remains a controversial issue in cardiobiology. To address this question, we conducted a spatiotemporally resolved analysis of CPC deployment dynamics, tracking cells expressing the pan-CPC gene Isl1. Most CPCs undergo programmed silencing during early cardiogenesis through proteasome-mediated and PRC2 (Polycomb group repressive complex 2)–mediated Isl1 repression, selectively in the outflow tract. A notable exception is a domain of cardiac neural crest cells (CNCs) in the inflow tract. These “dorsal CNCs” are regulated through a Wnt/β-catenin/Isl1 feedback loop and generate a limited number of trabecular cardiomyocytes that undergo multiple clonal divisions during compaction, to eventually produce ~10% of the biventricular myocardium. After birth, CNCs continue to generate cardiomyocytes that, however, exhibit diminished clonal amplification dynamics. Thus, although the postnatal heart sustains cardiomyocyte-producing CNCs, their regenerative potential is likely diminished by the loss of trabeculation-like proliferative properties.
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