Abstract: The embryonic epicardium and the cardiac mesenchyme derived from it are critical to heart development. The embryonic epicardium arises from an extracardiac progenitor tissue called the proepicardium, a proliferation of coelomic cells located at the limit between the liver and the sinus venosus. A proepicardium has not been described in invertebrates, and the evolutionary origin of this structure in vertebrates is unknown. We herein suggest that the proepicardium might be regarded as an evolutionary derivative from an ancient pronephric external glomerulus that has lost its excretory role. In fact, we previously described that the epicardium arises by cell migration from the primordia of the right pronephric external glomerulus in a representative of the most primitive vertebrate lineage, the lamprey Petromyzon marinus. In this review, we emphasize the striking similarities between the gene expression profiles of the proepicardium and the developing kidneys, as well as the parallelisms in the signaling mechanisms involved in both cases. We show some preliminary evidence about the existence of an inhibitory mechanism blocking glomerular differentiation in the proepicardium. We speculate as to the possibility that this developmental link between heart and kidney can be revealing a phylogenetically deeper association, supported by the existence of a heart-kidney complex in Hemichordates. Finally, we suggest that primitive hematopoiesis could be related with this heart-kidney complex, thus accounting for the current anatomical association of the hematopoietic stem cells with an aorta-gonad-mesonephros area. In summary, we think that our hypothesis can provide new perspectives on the evolutionary origin of the vertebrate heart.
Abstract: Developmental biology is arguably the most exciting field of study within the biological sciences. To elucidate how complex organisms develop from a single cell into a complex organism is a quest that has captured the minds of many great scientists. [...]