, Volume 188, Issue 3, pp 269-285

Correlation between the embryonic head flexures and cardiac development

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Abstract

The aim of the present study is to examine whether the formation of the cranial and cervical flexures is involved in the process of cardiac looping, and whether looping anomalies are causally involved in the development of cardiac malformations. For this purpose, the formation of the cranial and cervical flexures was experimentally suppressed in chick embryos by introducing a straight human hair into the neural tube. In the experimental embryos, the absence of the cervical flexure, alone or in combination with a reduced cranial flexure, was always associated with anomalies in the looping of the tubular heart. The convergence of the primary distant venous and arterial ends of the heart, as well as the normal movement of the ventricular region from its original position, cranial and ventral from the cardiac inflow, to its final position caudal to the presumptive atria, was suppressed to an extent related to the degree to which the formation of the flexures was prevented. Positional immaturity of the heart loop (increased distance between its inflow and outflow, and cranio-ventral position of the ventricular region) was associated with incomplete deformations (reduced angulations) of the cardiac wall at the atrioventricular or conoventricular junctional areas. Reduced angulations were associated with the hypoplasia of the anlagen of the cardiac septa at the level of the angulation (av-cushions, conal ridges). Hypoplasia of these anlagen was followed by incomplete or absent fusion of their opposite free edges, which finally resulted in atrioventricular or ventricular septal defects. These results show that the convergence of the venous and arterial ends of the tubular heart and the caudo-dorsal movement of its ventricular region are related to the formation of the cervical flexure, and that the mesenchymal septa of the heart seem to develop in response to deformations of the embryonic heart, which are generated by the process of cardiac looping. Therefore, the positional and morphological changes of the looping heart are regarded as playing a key role in the process of normal and abnormal morphogenesis of the heart.