Dr. Boni A. Afouda
Research FellowUniversity of Aberdeen
Institute of Medical Sciences
Foresterhill Health Campus
AB25 2ZD, United Kingdom
I am interested in the process of how the heart is formed during vertebrate embryogenesis. In particular, my main focus is on the formation of heart muscle cells (cardiomyocyte) during early cardiogenesis. Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in the first year of life and recent discoveries have identified GATA family of transcription factors and Wnt signalling molecules as key conserved regulators involved in early cardiogenesis. Of the six vertebrate members of the GATA factors three (GATA4, 5 and 6) are expressed in the heart in partially overlapping patterns to carry out partially redundant functions. The importance of these factors in heart formation has been highlighted in recent studies. Mutations in the Gata4 gene cause human congenital cardiomyopathies, including valve and septal defects and loss of both Gata4 and Gata6 in mice leads to acardia, suggesting that genetic interactions between these factors are essential for the onset and/or maintenance of cardiogenesis. In addition it has been shown that lack of Gata5 in mice leads to bicuspid aortic valve formation. The importance of these factors during heart formation is further demonstrated in studies that shown that compound Gata4/Gata5 and Gata5/Gata6 mutants die embryonically or perinatally due to severe CHD. I use Xenopus as a model organism to examine the fundamental question about what functional roles individual GATA factors play during cardiogenesis. Because these factors function in other embryonic tissues I have established a powerful and reliable experimental cardiogenic assay with Xenopus explants, which allows investigating the role of these factors during early heart formation without interfering with other developmental processes.