Human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) may become important for cardiac repair due to their potentially unlimited ability to generate cardiomyocytes (CMCs). Moreover, genetic manipulation of hESC-derived CMCs would be a very promising technique for curing myocardial disorders. At the present time, however, inducing the differentiation of hESCs into CMCs is extremely difficult and, therefore, an easy and standardizable technique is needed to evaluate differentiation strategies. Vectors driving cardiac-specific expression may represent an important tool not only for monitoring new cardiac-differentiation strategies, but also for the manipulation of cardiac differentiation of ESCs. To this aim, we generated cardiac-specific lentiviral vectors (LVVs) in which expression is driven by a short fragment of the cardiac troponin-I proximal promoter (TNNI3) with a human cardiac α-actin enhancer, and tested its suitability in inducing tissue-specific gene expression and ability to track the CMC lineage during differentiation of ESCs. We determined that (1) TNNI3-LVVs efficiently drive cardiac-specific gene expression and mark the cardiomyogenic lineage in human and mouse ESC differentiation systems (2) the cardiac α-actin enhancer confers a further increase in gene-expression specificity of TNNI3-LVVs in hESCs. Although this technique may not be useful in tracking small numbers of cells, data suggested that TNNI3-based LVVs are a powerful tool for manipulating human ESCs and modifying hESC-derived CMCs.
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