The heart consists of many types of cells, including cardiomyocytes, vascular cells, neural cells, and cardiac fibroblasts. Adult cardiomyocytes are terminally differentiated cells, and loss of cardiomyocytes as a result of heart damage is irreversible. To regenerate damaged hearts and restore cardiac function, understanding the cellular and molecular basis of heart development is of considerable importance. Although it is well known that heart function is tightly regulated by cell-cell interactions, their roles in heart development are not clear. Recent studies, including ours, identifed important roles of cell-cell interactions in heart development and function. The balance between neural chemoattractants and chemorepellents secreted from cardiomyocytes determines cardiac nervous development. Nerve growth factor is a potent chemoattractant synthesized by cardiomyocytes, whereas Sema3a is a neural che-morepellent expressed specifically in the subendocardium. Disruption of this molecular balance induces disorganized cardiac innervation and may lead to sudden cardiac death due to lethal arrhythmias. Cardiac fibroblasts, of which there are large populations in the heart, secrete high levels of specifc extracellular matrix and growth factors. Embryonic cardiac fibroblast-specific secreted factors collaboratively promote mitotic activity of embryonic cardiomyocytes and expansion of ventricular chambers during cardiogenesis. More recently, utilizing knowledge of the regulatory mechanisms of heart development, we found that cardiac fibroblasts can be directly reprogrammed into cardiomyocyte-like cells in vitro and in vivo by gene transfer of cardiac-specific transcription factors. Understanding the mechanisms of heart development and cardiac reprogramming technology may provide new therapeutic approaches for heart disease in the future.
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