Epicardial-derived signals are key regulators of cardiac embryonic development. An important part of these signals is known to relate to a retinoic acid (RA) receptor-dependent mechanism. RA is a potent morphogen synthesised by Raldh enzymes, Raldh2 being the predominant one in mesodermal tissues. Despite the importance of epicardial retinoid signalling in the heart, the molecular mechanisms controlling cardiac Raldh2 transcription remain unknown. In the current study, we show that Wt1-null epicardial cells display decreased expression of Raldh2 both in vivo and in vitro. Using a RA-responsive reporter, we have confirmed that Wt1-null epicardial cells actually show reduced synthesis of RA. We also demonstrate that Raldh2 is a direct transcriptional target of Wt1 in epicardial cells. A secondary objective of this study was to identify the status of RA-related receptors previously reported to be critical to epicardial biology (PDGFRα,β; RXRα). PDGFRα and PDGFRβ mRNA and protein levels are downregulated in the absence of Wt1, but only Pdgfra expression is rescued by the addition of RA to Wt1-null epicardial cells. RXRα mRNA levels are not affected in Wt1-null epicardial cells. Taken together, our results indicate that Wt1 critically regulates epicardial RA signalling via direct activation of the Raldh2 gene, and identify a role for Wt1 in the regulation of morphogen receptors involved in the proliferation, migration, and differentiation of epicardial and epicardially-derived cells (EPDC).
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