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Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2005 Jan;288(1):H344-51. Epub 2004 Aug 26.

Electrophysiology and anatomy of embryonic rabbit hearts before and after septation.

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Department of Biomedical Engineering, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.


Mechanisms of cardiac pacemaking and conduction system (CPCS) development are difficult to study, in part because of the absence of models that are physiologically similar to humans in which we can label the entire CPCS. Investigations of the adult rabbit heart have provided insight into normal and abnormal cardiac conduction. The adult and the embryonic rabbit have an endogenous marker of the entire cardiac conduction system, neurofilament 160 (NF-160). Previous work suggested that ventricular septation correlates with critical phases in avian CPCS development, in contrast to the mouse CPCS. Combining high-resolution optical mapping with immunohistochemical analysis of the embryonic rabbit heart, we investigated the significance of ventricular septation in patterning the rabbit embryonic conduction system. We hypothesized that 1) completion of ventricular septation does not correlate with changes in the ventricular activation sequence in rabbit embryos and 2) CPCS anatomy determines the activation sequence of the embryonic heart. We found that preseptated (days 11-13, n = 13) and postseptated (day 15, n = 5) hearts had similar "apex-to-base" ventricular excitation. PR intervals were not significantly different in either group. CPCS anatomy revealed continuity of the NF-160-positive tract connecting the presumptive sinoatrial node, atrioventricular (AV) junction, and ventricular conduction system. The presence of collagen in the AV junction coincided with the appearance of an AV interval. We conclude that the apex-to-base ventricular activation sequence in the rabbit embryo is present before completion of ventricular septation. CPCS anatomy reflects global cardiac activation as demonstrated by high-resolution optical mapping.

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