Various combinations of cardiogenic transcription factors, including Gata4 (G), Hand2 (H), Mef2c (M) and Tbx5 (T), can reprogram fibroblasts into induced cardiac-like myocytes (iCLMs) in vitro and in vivo. Given that optimal cardiac function relies on distinct yet functionally interconnected atrial, ventricular and pacemaker (PM) cardiomyocytes (CMs), it remains to be seen which subtypes are generated by direct reprogramming and whether this process can be harnessed to produce a specific CM of interest. Here, we employ a PM-specific Hcn4-GFP reporter mouse and a spectrum of CM subtype-specific markers to investigate the range of cellular phenotypes generated by reprogramming of primary fibroblasts. Unexpectedly, we find that a combination of four transcription factors (4F) optimized for Hcn4-GFP expression does not generate beating PM cells due to inadequate sarcomeric protein expression and organization. However, applying strict single-cell criteria to GHMT-reprogrammed cells, we observe induction of diverse cellular phenotypes, including those resembling immature forms of all three major cardiac subtypes (i.e. atrial, ventricular and pacemaker). In addition, we demonstrate that cells induced by GHMT are directly reprogrammed and do not arise from an Nxk2.5(+) progenitor cell intermediate. Taken together, our results suggest a remarkable degree of plasticity inherent to GHMT reprogramming and provide a starting point for optimization of CM subtype-specific reprogramming protocols.
© 2014. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd.