The heart-forming fields: one or multiple?

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2007 Aug 29;362(1484):1257-65. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2007.2113.


The recent identification of a second mesodermal region as a source of cardiomyocytes has challenged the views on the formation of the heart. This second source of cardiomyocytes is localized centrally on the embryonic disc relative to the remainder of the classic cardiac crescent, a region also called the pharyngeal mesoderm. In this review, we discuss the concept of the primary and secondary cardiogenic fields in the context of folding of the embryo, and the subsequent temporal events involved in formation of the heart. We suggest that, during evolution, the heart developed initially only with the components required for a systemic circulation, namely a sinus venosus, a common atrium, a 'left' ventricle and an arterial cone, the latter being the myocardial outflow tract as seen in the heart of primitive fishes. These components developed in their entirety from the classic cardiac crescent. Only later in the course of evolution did the appearance of novel signalling pathways permit the central part of the cardiac crescent, and possibly the contiguous pharyngeal mesoderm, to develop into the cardiac components required for the pulmonary circulation. These latter components comprise the right ventricle, and that part of the left atrium that derives from the mediastinal myocardium, namely the dorsal atrial wall and the atrial septum. It is these elements which are now recognized as developing from the second field of pharyngeal mesoderm. We suggest that, rather than representing development from separate fields, the cardiac components required for both the systemic and pulmonary circulations are derived by patterning from a single cardiac field, albeit with temporal delay in the process of formation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Embryo, Mammalian / cytology
  • Embryo, Mammalian / embryology
  • Heart / embryology*
  • Humans