The homeobox-containing gene tinman (msh-2, Bodmer et al., 1990 Development 110, 661–669) is expressed in the mesoderm primordium, and this expression requires the function of the mesoderm determinant twist. Later in development, as the first mesodermal subdivisions are occurring, expression becomes limited to the visceral mesoderm and the heart. Here, I show that the function of tinman is required for visceral muscle and heart development. Embryos that are mutant for the tinman gene lack the appearance of visceral mesoderm and of heart primordia, and the fusion of the anterior and posterior endoderm is impaired. Even though tinman mutant embryos do not have a heart or visceral muscles, many of the somatic body wall muscles appear to develop although abnormally. When the tinman cDNA is ubiquitously expressed in tinman mutant embryos, via a heatshock promoter, formation of heart cells and visceral mesoderm is partially restored, tinman seems to be one of the earliest genes required for heart development and the first gene reported for which a crucial function in the early mesodermal subdivisions has been implicated.

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