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Anat Rec (Hoboken). 2014 Aug;297(8):1414-29. doi: 10.1002/ar.22949. Epub 2014 May 27.

The development of septation in the four-chambered heart.

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Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle, United Kingdom.


The past decades have seen immense progress in the understanding of cardiac development. Appreciation of precise details of cardiac anatomy, however, has yet to be fully translated into the more general understanding of the changing structure of the developing heart, particularly with regard to formation of the septal structures. In this review, using images obtained with episcopic microscopy together with scanning electron microscopy, we show that the newly acquired information concerning the anatomic changes occurring during separation of the cardiac chambers in the mouse is able to provide a basis for understanding the morphogenesis of septal defects in the human heart. It is now established that as part of the changes seen when the heart tube changes from a short linear structure to the looped arrangement presaging formation of the ventricles, new material is added at both its venous and arterial poles. The details of these early changes, however, are beyond the scope of our current review. It is during E10.5 in the mouse that the first anatomic features of septation are seen, with formation of the primary atrial septum. This muscular structure grows toward the cushions formed within the atrioventricular canal, carrying on its leading edge a mesenchymal cap. Its cranial attachment breaks down to form the secondary foramen by the time the mesenchymal cap has used with the atrioventricular endocardial cushions, the latter fusion obliterating the primary foramen. Then the cap, along with a mesenchymal protrusion that grows from the mediastinal mesenchyme, muscularizes to form the base of the definitive atrial septum, the primary septum itself forming the floor of the oval foramen. The cranial margin of the foramen is a fold between the attachments of the pulmonary veins to the left atrium and the roof of the right atrium. The apical muscular ventricular septum develops concomitant with the ballooning of the apical components from the inlet and outlet of the ventricular loop. Its apical part is initially trabeculated. The membranous part of the septum is derived from the rightward margins of the atrioventricular cushions, with the muscularizing proximal outflow cushions fusing with the muscular septum and becoming the subpulmonary infundibulum as the aorta is committed to the left ventricle. Perturbations of these processes explain well the phenotypic variants of deficient atrial and ventricular septation.


atrial septum; atrioventricular septal defects; atrioventricular septum; interatrial communications; ventricular septal defects; ventricular septum

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