We have recently isolated a novel cytokine, cardiotrophin-1 (CT-1), from an in vitro embryonic stem cell system of cardiogenesis that can activate embryonic markers in neonatal rat cardiac myocytes. CT-1 is a new member of the interleukin 6 (IL-6)/leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF) cytokines, which activate downstream signals via gp130-dependent pathways. To define the developmental pattern of expression of CT-1 during murine embryogenesis, we have developed antibodies directed against a CT-1 fusion protein. As assessed by immunolocalization, CT-1 is predominantly expressed in the early mouse embryonic heart tube (E8.5-10.5). In the heart, CT-1 is primarily expressed in myocardial cells, and not in endocardial cushion or outflow tract tissues. After E12.5, CT-1 expression is found in other tissues, including skeletal, liver and dorsal root ganglia. Given the effects of a related family member (ciliary neurotrophic factor, CNTF) on neuronal cell survival, we studied the ability of CT-1 to promote cardiac myocyte survival and proliferation in vitro. Both CT-1 and LIF, which share the same receptors, dramatically promote neonatal cardiac myocyte survival, while IL-6 and CNTF are without effect. A cell proliferation assay documents that CT-1 provokes an approximate 2-fold increase in embryonic cardiac myocyte proliferation. Thus, CT-1 may play an autocrine role during cardiac chamber growth and morphogenesis by promoting the survival and proliferation of immature myocytes, most likely via gp130-dependent signaling pathways.

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