Defects of atrial and ventricular septation are the most frequent form of congenital heart disease, accounting for almost 50% of all cases. We previously reported that a heterozygous G296S missense mutation of GATA4 caused atrial and ventricular septal defects and pulmonary valve stenosis in humans. GATA4 encodes a cardiac transcription factor, and when deleted in mice it results in cardiac bifida and lethality by embryonic day (E)9.5. In vitro, the mutant GATA4 protein has a reduced DNA binding affinity and transcriptional activity and abolishes a physical interaction with TBX5, a transcription factor critical for normal heart formation. To characterize the mutation in vivo, we generated mice harboring the same mutation, Gata4 G295S. Mice homozygous for the Gata4 G295S mutant allele have normal ventral body patterning and heart looping, but have a thin ventricular myocardium, single ventricular chamber, and lethality by E11.5. While heterozygous Gata4 G295S mutant mice are viable, a subset of these mice have semilunar valve stenosis and small defects of the atrial septum. Gene expression studies of homozygous mutant mice suggest the G295S protein can sufficiently activate downstream targets of Gata4 in the endoderm but not in the developing heart. Cardiomyocyte proliferation deficits and decreased cardiac expression of CCND2, a member of the cyclin family and a direct target of Gata4, were found in embryos both homozygous and heterozygous for the Gata4 G295S allele. To further define functions of the Gata4 G295S mutation in vivo, compound mutant mice were generated in which specific cell lineages harbored both the Gata4 G295S mutant and Gata4 null alleles. Examination of these mice demonstrated that the Gata4 G295S protein has functional deficits in early myocardial development. In summary, the Gata4 G295S mutation functions as a hypomorph in vivo and leads to defects in cardiomyocyte proliferation during embryogenesis, which may contribute to the development of congenital heart defects in humans.
Cardiac malformations occur due to abnormal heart development and are the most prevalent human birth defect. Defects of atrial and ventricular septation are the most common type of congenital heart defect and are the result of incomplete closure of the atrial and ventricular septa, a process required for formation of a four-chambered heart. The molecular mechanisms that underlie atrial and ventricular septal defects are unknown. We previously published a highly penetrant autosomal dominant mutation (G296S) in GATA4, which was associated with atrial and ventricular septal defects in a large kindred. The disease-causing mutation has a spectrum of biochemical deficits affecting both DNA binding and protein–protein interactions. Here, we report the generation and phenotypic characterization of mice harboring the orthologous mutation in Gata4 (G295S). While homozygous mutant mice display embryonic lethality and cardiac defects, the phenotype is less severe than Gata4-null mice. A subset of Gata4 G295S heterozygote mice display a persistent interatrial communication (patent foramen ovale) and stenosis of the semilunar valves. Molecular characterization of the mutant mice suggests that the Gata4 G295S mutant protein results in diminished expression of Gata4 target genes in the heart and functional deficits in cardiomyocyte proliferation. Thus, cardiomyocyte proliferation defects may contribute to defects of cardiac septation found in humans with GATA4 mutations.