Dr Branko V. Latinkic

Dr Branko V. Latinkic


School of Biosciences

+44 (0)29 2087 5784
+44 (0)29 2087 4116
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Research overview

My group studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms of early heart development in vertebrates. Our focus is on the first step in heart development, cardiac specification by inductive signals from the anterior endoderm in embryos of two frog species, Xenopus leavis and Xenopus tropicalis.

  • 1987. BSc in molecular biology, Belgrade University.
  • 1994. PhD in molecular genetics, University of Illinois at Chicago.
    Regulation of mammalian immediate-early genes, the lab of Prof. Lester Lau.
  • 1995-1998. Postdoc with Dr. Jim Smith, National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill. Mechanisms of mesoderm induction.
  • 1999-2003. Postdoc with Dr. Tim Mohun, National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill. Mechanisms of cardiac induction and gene expression.
  • 2004- Lecturer in School of Biosciences, Cardiff University.

Cardiac precursors are specified during gastrulation, almost simultaneously with major developmental decisions that will shape the embryo. Because of this, it is difficult to specifically manipulate cardiac specification, without affecting other patterning events.

Numerous transcription factors have been implicated in heart development ("cardiogenic factors"), but their precise roles in cardiac specification are unclear, largely because of their involvement in the development of other tissues.

Our approach to cardiac specification and the roles of cardiogenic transcription factors takes advantage of several simple assays based on pluripotent animal pole explants derived from blastula stage Xenopus embryos. In isolation these explants normally develop into epidermis, but can be converted into cardiomyocytes in several ways. One is by exposure to cardiogenic signals from the anterior endoderm.

Animal cap cells can also be induced to differentiate as cardiomyocytes by activin/Nodal signalling or by cardiogenic transcription factor GATA4.

These assays represent models of cardiogenesis of decreasing complexity that are considerably simpler than cardiogenesis in vivo. Importantly, cardiogenesis in these assays recapitulates normal course of cardiomyocyte differentiation as it occurs in vivo. Given the ease of experimental manipulation, frog embryo and explants provide powerful models for elucidating cellular and molecular mechanisms of early heart development.

The questions we are addressing using these models include:

  • what are the signals that specify cardiac fate and how they work?
  • what is the initial, or immediate-early genomic programme activated by cardiac specification?
  • how are the genes that comprise this programme regulated?
  • how is the cardiogenic programme differentiated from related programmes for early mesoderm and endoderm specification?
  • what are the molecular determinants of cardiogenic activity of GATA4?

Current funding

  • British Heart Foundation


  • Prof Mona Nemer - Ottawa
  • Prof Matthias Bochtler - Warsaw
  • Prof Nick Allen - Cardiff


  • Dr Simon Fellgett
  • Dr Pavel Kirilenko

Postgraduate research students