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Dev Biol. 2006 Jan 15;289(2):430-41. Epub 2005 Dec 9.

Establishment of cardiac cytoarchitecture in the developing mouse heart.

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Institute of Cell Biology, ETH Zurich-Hönggerberg, CH-8093 Zurich, Switzerland.


Cardiomyocytes are characterized by an extremely well-organized cytoarchitecture. We investigated its establishment in the developing mouse heart with particular reference to the myofibrils and the specialized types of cell-cell contacts, the intercalated discs (ICD). Early embryonic cardiomyocytes have a polygonal shape with cell-cell contacts distributed circumferentially at the peripheral membrane and myofibrils running in a random orientation in the sparse cytoplasm between the nucleus and the plasma membrane. During fetal development, the cardiomyocytes elongate, and the myofibrils become aligned. The restriction of the ICD components to the bipolar ends of the cells is a much slower process and is achieved for adherens junctions and desmosomes only after birth, for gap junctions even later. By quantifying the specific growth parameters of prenatal cardiomyocytes, we were able to identify a previously unknown fetal phase of physiological hypertrophy. Our results suggest (1) that myofibril alignment, bipolarization and ICD restriction happen sequentially in cardiomyocytes, and (2) that increase of heart mass in the embryo is not only achieved by hyperplasia alone but also by volume increase of the individual cardiomyocytes (hypertrophy). These observations help to understand the mechanisms that lead to the formation of a functional heart during development at a cellular level.

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