Extracts from atrial and ventricular heart tissue of several species (chicken, rat, sheep, and cow) are strongly mitogenic for chicken skeletal myoblasts, with the highest apparent concentration of biological activity in the atrial extracts. Using several approaches (biological activity assay and biochemical and immunological analyses), we have established that (a) all cardiac extracts contain an 18,000-D peptide which is identified as basic fibroblast growth factor (bFGF) since it elutes from heparin-Sepharose columns at salt concentrations greater than 1.4 M and is recognized by bFGF-specific affinity-purified antibodies; (b) bFGF is more abundant in the atrial extracts in all species so examined; (c) avian cardiac tissue extracts contain the highest concentration of immunoreactive bFGF; and (d) avian ventricles contain a higher relative molecular mass (23,000-D) bFGF-like peptide which is absent from atrial extracts. Examination of frozen bovine cardiac tissue sections by indirect immunofluorescence using anti-bFGF antibodies shows bFGF-like reactivity associated with nuclei and intercalated discs of muscle fibers. There is substantial accumulation of bFGF around atrial but not ventricular myofibers, resulting most likely from more extensive endomysium in the atria. Blood vessels and single, nonmuscle, connective tissue cells react strongly with the anti-bFGF antibodies. Higher bFGF content and pericellular distribution in atrial muscles suggest a correlation with increased regenerative potential in this tissue. Distribution within the myofibers is intriguing, raising the possibility for an intimate and continuous involvement of bFGF-like components with normal myocardial function.

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