A cell culture model for human cardiac myogenesis is introduced. Human fetal myocardial cells were dissociated enzymatically, and cultured in a mitogen-rich medium that promoted the growth of presumptive cardiac myoblasts. Strains of human cardiac myoblasts were generated from different anatomical regions of the fetal heart. The cells could be cultured for at least 30 generations, or frozen and recovered for later use. Differentiation was induced by culturing the cardiac myoblasts in a mitogen-poor medium. Differentiation of cardiac myoblasts was marked primarily by transcriptional activation of the atrial natriuretic factor (ANF) gene. Evidence is presented that posttranscriptional processing of ANF transcripts is affected by the anatomical origin of the cardiac myoblasts and the presence of cocultured neuronal cells. Cardiac myoblasts induced to differentiate in culture synthesized only low levels of sarcomeric myosin and cardiac alpha-actin, suggesting that differentiation of these cells progresses through two phases: an initial, noncontractile phase that is represented by the differentiating cultured cells; and a later contractile phase, in which myofibrillar assembly is accentuated and modulated by secondary signals from the cardiac milieu.

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