The epicardium plays an essential role in coronary artery formation and myocardial development. However, signals controlling the developing epicardium and epicardial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in the normal and diseased adult heart are studied less rigorously. Here we investigated the role of angiogenic hormone, prokineticin-2 and its receptor PKR1 in the epicardium of developing and adult heart. Genetic ablation of PKR1 in epicardium leads to partial embryonic and postnatal lethality with abnormal heart development. Cardiac developmental defects are manifested in the adult stage as ischemic cardiomyopathy with systolic dysfunction. We discovered that PKR1 regulates epicardial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) for epicardial-derived progenitor cell (EPDC), formation. This event affects at least three consequential steps during heart development: (i) EPDC and cardiomyocyte proliferation involved in thickening of an outer compact ventricular chamber wall, (ii) rhythmicity, (iii) formation of coronary circulation. In isolated embryonic EPDCs, overexpression or activation of PKR1 alters cell morphology and EMT markers via activating Akt signaling. Lack of PKR1 signal in epicardium leads to defective heart development and underlies the origin of congenital heart disease in adult mice. Our mice provide genetic models for congenital dysfunction of the heart and should facilitate studies of both pathogenesis and therapy of cardiac disorders in humans.
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