The aim of this study was to analyze the development of coronary vessels at different stages of embryonic life in rats using corrosion casts and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). We studied morphologic details of vessel maturation, expansion, and pattern formation from the stage of development when the coronary system forms patent connections with the aorta and the right atrium (embryonic day 16 (ED16)) to full-term fetus (ED21). The internal surface morphologies of the arterial and venous vessel walls were different and were dependent on the distance from the orifice and the capillary system. They also depended on the maturation state of a given vessel. In various branches of the coronary system we demonstrated round, fusiform or polygonal, endothelial cell imprints. The capillary network was dense, however, at the early stages of development, it formed a thin layer over the myocardium. By ED21 capillaries assumed an orientation parallel to the long axes of the cardiac myocytes. During all stages of development, different forms of angiogenesis by intussusceptive growth were observed. Splitting of the vessel wall occurred in two or three points along the vessel, forming two- or three-link chains. Certain areas of vessels resembled doughnuts, from which several sister vessels originated. The coronary arteries were situated deep within the myocardial wall. The major coronary veins were mostly located on the surface of the capillary plexuses of the myocardial wall. In conclusion, this method of vessel casting enables the detection of angiogenesis by intussusceptive growth, and the visualization of a capillary's position to the myocardial wall, thickness of the capillary plexuses, and the internal surface morphology of major vessels.
Copyright 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.