The heart in higher vertebrates develops from a simple tube into a complex organ with four chambers specialized for efficient pumping at pressure. During this period, there is a concomitant change in the level of myocardial organization. One important event is the emergence of trabeculations in the luminal layers of the ventricles, a feature which enables the myocardium to increase its mass in the absence of any discrete coronary circulation. In subsequent development, this trabecular layer becomes solidified in its deeper part, thus increasing the compact component of the ventricular myocardium. The remaining layer adjacent to the ventricular lumen retains its trabeculations, with patterns which are both ventricle- and species-specific. During ontogenesis, the compact layer is initially only a few cells thick, but gradually develops a multilayered spiral architecture. A similar process can be charted in the atrial myocardium, where the luminal trabeculations become the pectinate muscles. Their extent then provides the best guide for distinguishing intrinsically the morphologically right from the left atrium. We review the variations of these processes during the development of the human heart and hearts from commonly used laboratory species (chick, mouse, and rat). Comparison with hearts from lower vertebrates is also provided. Despite some variations, such as the final pattern of papillary or pectinate muscles, the hearts observe the same biomechanical rules, and thus share many common points. The functional importance of myocardial organization is demonstrated by lethality of mouse mutants with perturbed myocardial architecture. We conclude that experimental studies uncovering the rules of myocardial assembly are relevant for the full understanding of development of the human heart.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.