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Electron microscopy and microcalorimetry of the postnatal rat heart (Rattus norvegicus).

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  • 1Department of Anatomy, Division of Electron Microscopy, University of Göttingen, Germany.


The interplay of ultrastructure and tissue metabolism was examined in neonatal, infant and adult rat hearts by electron microscopy and microcalorimetry. Morphometry was used to determine parameters of oxygen diffusion capacity (distance between capillaries and mitochondria, capillary surface density) and oxidative metabolic capacity (mitochondrial volume fraction). Thin slices and large samples of living tissue were examined calorimetrically to quantify aerobic metabolism and ischemia tolerance, respectively. After birth, rat hearts grow in parallel to body mass and show characteristics of cellular hypertrophy. Capillary surface density increases from neonatal to infant rats, and decreases to an intermediate value in adult rats. The distance between capillaries and mitochondria shows no significant changes throughout postnatal development. Mitochondrial volume fraction increases continuously until adulthood. The specific aerobic tissue metabolic rate is higher in the neonatal than in the infant and adult rat. However, the ischemic decline in metabolic rate is much slower in the neonatal rat, reflecting an elevated hypoxia tolerance. In conclusion, the neonatal rat heart exhibits a high metabolic rate despite a low mitochondrial volume fraction. The subsequent structural rearrangements can be interpreted as long-term adaptations to the increased postnatal workload and may contribute to the progressive loss of hypoxia tolerance.

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