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Europace. 2012 Nov;14 Suppl 5:v73-v81. doi: 10.1093/europace/eus276.

Microscopic magnetic resonance imaging reveals high prevalence of third coronary artery in human and rabbit heart.

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Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.



The human coronary tree is commonly assumed to have two roots: the left and right coronary arteries (LCA and RCA, respectively). However, a third coronary artery (TCA) has been observed in humans and animals, usually arising from the right anterior aortic sinus near the RCA. Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging, we identified TCA prevalence and characteristics in rabbit and human hearts.


Third coronary artery presence was analysed in hearts from 11 New Zealand white rabbits and 7 human cadavers, using excised tissue that was fixed, gadolinium-treated, and agar-embedded for imaging-based reconstruction. A TCA was identified in all rabbit hearts and six of seven human hearts, originating either from an independent ostium (7 of 11 rabbits, 2 of 7 humans) or an ostium shared with the RCA (4 of 11 rabbits, 4 of 7 humans). Proximal TCA cross-sectional area in rabbits was 15.3 ± 6.0% of RCA area (mean ± SD, based on n = 9 rabbit hearts in which reliable measurements could be taken for both vessels), and 26.7 ± 10.1% in humans (n = 4). In all-but-one case where a TCA was observed, it originated ventral to the RCA, progressing towards the right ventricular outflow tract. In one rabbit, the TCA originated dorsal to the RCA and progressed towards the Crista terminalis in the right atrium. A fourth vessel, forming a separate aortic Vas vasorum was occasionally seen, originating from the right anterior aortic sinus either from an ostium common with (1 of 11 rabbits, 0 of 7 humans) or independent of (1 of 11 rabbits, 1 of 7 humans) the TCA. Pilot optical mapping experiments showed that TCA occlusion had variable acute effects on rabbit cardiac electrophysiology.


Third coronary artery presence is common in rabbit and human hearts. Functional effects of disrupted TCA blood supply are ill-investigated, and the rabbit may be a suitable species for such research.

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