Knowledge of development is of crucial importance and can help clarify mechanisms of maldevelopment, but it must be properly validated. Concepts of development must be consistent with the anatomy seen in postnatal life. Such consistency is not always achieved. We have reviewed new and old accounts of cardiac embryology with regard to the definitive structure of the atrial septum. The key to understanding is to distinguish between folds of the atrial wall and true interatrial partitions. The flap valve of the oval foramen, and its inferior rim, are true septal structures, whereas the other rims, particularly the antero-superior rim, are infoldings enclosing extracardiac fat. During embryonic life, the systemic venous tributaries must achieve entrance only to the right side of the primary atrium. Development of the pulmonary venous component is a late event, with the canalizing vein using the dorsal mesocardium to gain access to the left side of the atrium. Once the systemic venous tributaries have achieved their rightward shift, the primary septum, together with the mesenchymal cap, grows between the systemic and pulmonary venous orifices. Closure of the primary foramen is achieved by fusion of the mesenchymal cap of the primary septum with the atrioventricular endocardial cushions and the vestibular spine (an additional mesenchymal structure carried on the right side of the pulmonary venous orifice). The superior margin of the newly formed secondary foramen is produced by an infolding of the atrial walls. Historically these mechanisms received appropriate recognition, but not all receive their proper due in current writings.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.