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Discovering small molecules as Wnt inhibitors that promote heart regeneration and injury repair.


Xie S , Fu W , Hu X , Lai KS , Peng X , Zhou Y , Zhu X , Christov P , Sawyer L , Ni TT , Sulikowski GA , Yang Z , Lee E , Zeng C , Wang WE , Zhong TP . Journal of Molecular Cell Biology. 2019 ; 12(1). 42-54


There are intense interests in discovering proregenerative medicine leads that can promote cardiac differentiation and regeneration, as well as repair damaged heart tissues. We have combined zebrafish embryo-based screens with cardiomyogenesis assays to discover selective small molecules that modulate heart development and regeneration with minimal adverse effects. Two related compounds with novel structures, named as Cardiomogen 1 and 2 (CDMG1 and CDMG2), were identified for their capacity to promote myocardial hyperplasia through expansion of the cardiac progenitor cell population. We find that Cardiomogen acts as a Wnt inhibitor by targeting β-catenin and reducing Tcf/Lef-mediated transcription in cultured cells. CDMG treatment of amputated zebrafish hearts reduces nuclear β-catenin in injured heart tissue, increases cardiomyocyte (CM) proliferation, and expedites wound healing, thus accelerating cardiac muscle regeneration. Importantly, Cardiomogen can alleviate the functional deterioration of mammalian hearts after myocardial infarction. Injured hearts exposed to CDMG1 display increased newly formed CMs and reduced fibrotic scar tissue, which are in part attributable to the β-catenin reduction. Our findings indicate Cardiomogen as a Wnt inhibitor in enhancing injury-induced CM proliferation and heart regeneration, highlighting the values of embryo-based small molecule screens in discovery of effective and safe medicine leads.