Expression of the two isoforms of cardiac myosin heavy chain (MHC), MHC alpha and MHC beta, in mammals is regulated postnatally by a variety of stimuli, including serum hormone levels. Less is known about the factors that regulate myosin gene expression in rapidly growing cardiac muscle in embryos. Using isoform-specific 35S-labeled cRNA probes corresponding to the two MHC genes and the two myosin alkali light chain (MLC) genes expressed in cardiac muscle, we have investigated the temporal and spatial pattern of expression of these different genes in the developing mouse heart by in situ hybridization. Between 7.5 and 8 d post coitum (p.c.), the newly formed cardiac tube begins to express MHC alpha, MHC beta, MLC1 atrial (MLC1A), and MLC1 ventricular (MLC1V) gene transcripts at high levels throughout the myocardium. As a distinct ventricular chamber forms between 8 and 9 d p.c., MHC beta mRNAs begin to be restricted to ventricular myocytes. This process is complete by 10.5 d p.c. During this time, MHC alpha mRNA levels decrease in ventricular muscle cells but continue to be expressed at high levels in atrial muscle cells. MHC alpha transcripts continue to decrease in ventricular myocytes until 16 d p.c., when they are detectable at low levels, but then increase, and finally replace MHC beta mRNAs in ventricular muscle by 7 d after birth. Like MHC beta, MLC1V transcripts become restricted to ventricular myocytes, but at a slower rate. MLC1V mRNAs continue to be detected at low levels in atrial cells until 15.5 d p.c. MLC1A mRNA levels gradually decrease but are still detectable in ventricular cells until a few days after birth. This dynamic pattern of changes in the myosin phenotype in the prenatal mouse heart suggests that there are different regulatory mechanisms for cell-specific expression of myosin isoforms during cardiac development.
Using in situ hybridization, we have investigated the temporal sequence of myosin gene expression in the developing skeletal muscle masses of mouse embryos. The probes used were isoform-specific, 35S-labeled antisense cRNAs to the known sarcomeric myosin heavy chain and myosin alkali light chain gene transcripts. Results showed that both cardiac and skeletal myosin heavy chain and myosin light chain mRNAs were first detected between 9 and 10 d post coitum (p.c.) in the myotomes of the most rostral somites. Myosin transcripts appeared in more caudal somites at later stages in a developmental gradient. The earliest myosin heavy chain transcripts detected code for the embryonic skeletal (MHCemb) and beta-cardiac (MHC beta) isoforms. Perinatal myosin heavy chain (MHCpn) transcripts begin to accumulate at 10.5 d p.c., which is much earlier than previously reported. At this stage, MHCemb is the major MHC transcript. By 12.5 d p.c., MHCpn and MHCemb mRNAs are present to an equal extent, and by 15.5 d p.c. the MHCpn transcript is the major MHC mRNA detected. Cardiac MHC beta transcripts are always present as a minor component. In contrast, the cardiac MLC1A mRNA is initially more abundant than that encoding the skeletal MLC1F isoform. By 12.5 d p.c. the two MLC mRNAs are present at similar levels, and by 15.5 d p.c., MLC1F is the predominant MLC transcript detected. Transcripts for the ventricular/slow (MLC1V) and another fast skeletal myosin light chain (MLC3F) are not detected in skeletal muscle before 15 d p.c., which marks the beginning of the fetal stage of muscle development. This is the first stage at which we can detect differences in expression of myosin genes between developing muscle fibers. We conclude that, during the development of the myotome and body wall muscles, different myosin genes follow independent patterns of activation and accumulation. The data presented are the first detailed study of myosin gene expression at these early stages of skeletal muscle development.