To study whether the first myofibrils are separate from or firmly bound to the myocytic cell membranes, whole mount preparations of 6-12-somite-stage chick embryonic hearts were examined by fluorescence microscopy after double labeling with antibodies to vinculin (fluorescein-conjugated) and rhodamine-phalloidin, or with antibodies to titin (rhodamine-conjugated) and nitrobenz-oxadiazole-phallacidin. When a small number of myofibrils appeared for the first time at the nine somite stage, most of them were already bound to the cell membranes through zonulae adherentes, fasciae adherentes, or costameres. In the outer of the two myocardial cell layers, in which the myocytes were closely in contact with each other along polygonal boundaries, fasciae adherentes and costameres developed at the boundaries, apparently by conversion of preexisting zonulae adherentes. On the other hand, in the inner cell layer, in which myocytes were more loosely associated with each other, both costameres and fasciae adherentes appeared to develop de novo, the former in association with the inner surface of the myocardial wall and the latter at the intercellular boundaries. The myofibrillar tracks in the inner layer followed long and smooth courses and were as a whole aligned in the circumferential direction of the tubular heart wall from the earliest stage of myofibril formation. Those in the outer layer were arranged in a pattern of two- or three-dimensional networks in the 9-10 somite stage, although many myofibrils were also circumferentially directed. The fact that the majority of the first myofibrils were already bound to the cell membranes in a directed manner suggests that myocytes at the earliest stage of myofibril formation are endowed with spatial information that directs the organization of nascent myofibrils. It is proposed that the myocyte cell membranes perform an essential role in cardiac myofibrillogenesis.

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