, Volume 185, Issue 2, pp 155-162

Distribution of collagens and fibronectin in the subepicardium during avian cardiac development

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The development of the layer of connective tissue between ventricular epicardium and myocardium was studied during chick morphogenesis using electron microscopy, light microscopy and immunohistochemical techniques. This layer, called the subepicardium, increases rapidly in volume from embryonic day 6 to 11 (E6–E11) during mesenchymal cell invasion. Fibrous, matrix components are initially apparent at E11 to E16, and as fibrous connective tissue structures accumulate, subepicardial volume decreases. Antibody labeling shows that fibronectin is an early, prominent constituent of the subepicardium, and by E8, the subepicardium is the cardiac site most enriched in fibronectin. Collagen type III is present in circumferentially-oriented fibers at E8. During subsequent cardiac growth, collagen type III fibers become broadly distributed in the subepicardium, with some fibers appearing to attach myocardium to epicardium. Collagen type I fibers are not apparent until E10. At E12 collagen type I fibers are distributed circumferentially around the heart in bundles crimped into waves of low amplitude. Other collagen type I fibers are oriented radially in the subepicardium. During late cardiac morphogenesis and in fully-differentiated hearts, fibronectin and collagen types I and III are more concentrated in the subepicardium than within the myocardium. These observations suggest that the composition and organization of the subepicardial connective tissue may make important contributions to cardiac mechanics from the latter half of embryonic development through adulthood.