Cardiovascular malformations in congenital diaphragmatic hernia: human and experimental studies

J Pediatr Surg. 1999 Sep;34(9):1352-8. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3468(99)90010-6.


Background/purpose: Cardiovascular malformations (CVM) associated with congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) account in part for the high mortality caused by this defect. The aim of this study is to examine the nature of these malformations in a large series of autopsies and to assess if similar defects are also present in rat fetuses with experimental CDH.

Methods: The incidence of CVM and their nature were examined in the autopsy records of 136 stillborns and neonates with CDH admitted to our institution in the last 30 years. Experimental CDH was induced in rat fetuses by giving 100 mg of nitrofen to their mothers on gestational day 9.5, and the fetuses were harvested on day 21 (near full term). The presence of CDH and the anatomy of the heart and great vessels were studied under dissecting microscope after formalin fixation. Unexposed fetuses were used as controls.

Results: Thirty-three newborns with CDH (24%) had CVM, either isolated or associated with other defects, and 7 had heart hypoplasia. Most CVM (ventricular septal defect, tetralogy of Fallot, transposition of the great vessels, double-outlet right ventricle) involved the outflow tract. In our animal experiments, no malformations were found in 21 control pups. Conversely, 80 of 130 nitrofen-exposed fetuses (61%) had CDH, and 59 of them (74%) had CVM. A significant association (Fisher's Exact test, P<.01) was found between CDH and CVM because only 25 of the 50 exposed animals without CDH (50%) had CVM. Again, most defects involved the outflow tract and were similar to those seen in human CDH (tetralogy of Fallot, persistent truncus, ventricular septal defect, double-outlet right ventricle, aberrant right subclavian artery, agenetic ductus, and interrupted aortic arch). Animals with CDH had significantly decreased heart weight to fetal weight ratio in comparison with controls and with those without CDH.

Conclusions: The similar nature of the cardiovascular defects found in babies succumbing to CDH and in nitrofen-exposed rats suggests that a similar disturbance of the regional organogenesis related to the neural crest might be involved in both settings, and further validates the use of this animal model for clarifying the cellular and molecular pathogenetic mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Abnormalities / complications*
  • Coronary Vessel Anomalies / complications
  • Hernias, Diaphragmatic, Congenital*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley