In the Mexican axolotl Ambystoma mexicanum recessive mutant gene c, by way of abnormal inductive processes from surrounding tissues, results in an absence of embryonic heart function. The lack of contractions in mutant heart cells apparently results from their inability to form normally organized myofibrils, even though a few actin-like (60-A) and myosin-like (150-A) filaments are present. Amorphous "proteinaceous" collections are often visible. In the present study, heavy meromyosin (HMM) treatment of mutant heart tissue greatly increases the number of thin filaments and decorates them in the usual fashion, confirming that they are actin. The amorphous collections disappear with the addition of HMM. In addition, an analysis of the constituent proteins of normal and mutant embryonic hearts and other tissues is made by sodium dodecyl sulfate (SDS) gel electrophoresis. These experiments are in full agreement with the morphological and HMM binding studies. The gels show distinct 42,000-dalton bands for both normal and mutant hearts, supporting the presence of normal actin. During early developmental stages (Harrison's stage 34) the cardiac tissues in normal and mutant siblings have indistinguishable banding patterns, but with increasing development several differences appear. Myosin heavy chain (200,000 daltons) increases substantially in normal hearts during development but very little in mutants. Even so the quantity of 200,000-dalton protein in mutant hearts is significantly more than in any of the nonmuscle tissues studied (i.e. gut, liver, brain). Unlike normal hearts, the mutant hearts lack a prominent 34,000-dalton band, indicating that if mutants contain muscle tropomyosin at all, it is present in drastically reduced amounts. Also, mutant hearts retain large amounts of yolk proteins at stages when the platelets have virtually disappeared from normal hearts. The morphologies and electrophoresis patterns of skeletal muscle from normal and mutant siblings are identical, confirming that gene c affects only heart muscle differentiation and not skeletal muscle. The results of the study suggest that the precardiac mesoderm in cardiac lethal mutant axolotl embryos initiates but then fails to complete its differentiation into functional muscle tissue. It appears that this single gene mutation, by way of abnormal inductive processes, affects the accumulation and organization of several different muscle proteins, including actin, myosin, and tropomyosin.

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