Developmental basis for electrophysiological heterogeneity in the ventricular and outflow tract myocardium as a substrate for life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias

Circ Res. 2009 Jan 2;104(1):19-31. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.108.188698.


Reentry is the main mechanism of life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias, including ventricular fibrillation and tachycardia. Its occurrence depends on the simultaneous presence of an arrhythmogenic substrate (a preexisting condition) and a "trigger," and is favored by electrophysiological heterogeneities. In the adult heart, electrophysiological heterogeneities of the ventricle exist along the apicobasal, left-right, and transmural axes. Also, conduction is preferentially slowed in the right ventricular outflow tract, especially during pharmacological sodium channel blockade. We propose that the origin of electrophysiological heterogeneities of the adult heart lies in early heart development. The heart is formed from several progenitor regions: the first heart field predominantly forms the left ventricle, whereas the second heart field forms the right ventricle and outflow tract. Furthermore, the embryonic outflow tract consists of slowly conducting tissue until it is incorporated into the ventricles and develops rapidly conducting properties. The subepicardial myocytes and subendocardial myocytes run distinctive gene programs from their formation onwards. This review discusses the hypothesis that electrophysiological heterogeneities in the adult heart result from persisting patterns in gene expression and function along the craniocaudal and epicardial-endocardial axes of the developing heart. Understanding the developmental origins of electrophysiological heterogeneity contributing to ventricular arrhythmias may give rise to new therapies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Aorta / embryology
  • Aorta / physiopathology*
  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia / genetics
  • Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia / physiopathology
  • Brugada Syndrome / genetics
  • Brugada Syndrome / physiopathology
  • Connexins / biosynthesis
  • Connexins / genetics
  • Fetal Heart / metabolism*
  • Gap Junctions / physiology
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental*
  • Genetic Heterogeneity
  • Heart Conduction System / embryology*
  • Heart Conduction System / physiopathology
  • Heart Ventricles / embryology
  • Heart Ventricles / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Ion Channels / biosynthesis
  • Ion Channels / genetics
  • Mammals
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / classification
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Neural Crest / cytology
  • Phenotype
  • Pulmonary Artery / embryology
  • Pulmonary Artery / physiopathology*
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / embryology*
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / genetics
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / physiopathology
  • Transcription, Genetic
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / embryology*
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / genetics
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / physiopathology


  • Connexins
  • Ion Channels