Paffett-Lugassy, N., Singh, R., Nevis, K.R., Guner-Ataman, B., O'Loughlin, E., Jahangiri, L., Harvey, R.P., Burns, C.G., and Burns, C.E. (2013) Heart field origin of great vessel precursors relies on nkx2.5-mediated vasculogenesis. Nature cell biology. 15(11):1362-1369.
The pharyngeal arch arteries (PAAs) are transient embryonic blood vessels that make indispensable contributions to the carotid arteries and great vessels of the heart, including the aorta and pulmonary arteries. During embryogenesis, the PAAs appear in a craniocaudal sequence to connect pre-existing segments of the primitive circulation after de novo vasculogenic assembly from angioblast precursors. Despite the unique spatiotemporal characteristics of PAA development, the embryonic origins of PAA angioblasts and the genetic factors regulating their emergence remain unknown. Here, we identify the embryonic source of PAA endothelium as nkx2.5 progenitors in lateral plate mesoderm long considered to adopt cell fates within the heart exclusively. Further, we report that PAA endothelial differentiation relies on Nkx2.5, a canonical cardiac transcription factor not previously implicated in blood vessel formation. Together, these studies reveal the heart field origin of PAA endothelium and attribute a new vasculogenic function to the cardiac transcription factor Nkx2.5 during great vessel precursor development.