Using morphological and physiological approaches we provided, for the first time, a structural and functional characterization of Carassius auratus L. heart. Besides to the classical four chambers, i.e. sinus venosus, atrium, ventricle, bulbus, we described two distinct structures corresponding to the atrio-ventricular (AV) region and the conus arteriosus. The atrium is very large and highly trabeculated; the ventricle shows an outer compacta, vascularized by coronary vessels, and an inner spongiosa; the bulbus wall is characterized by a high elastin/collagen ratio, which makes it extremely compliant. Immunolocalization revealed a strong expression of activated "eNOS-like" isoforms both at coronary endothelium and, to a lesser extent, in the myocardiocytes and the endocardial endothelium (EE). The structural design of the heart appears to comply with its mechanical function. Using an in vitro working heart preparation, cardiac performance was evaluated at different filling and afterload pressures. The hearts were very sensitive to filling pressure increases. Maximum Stroke volume (SV=1.08 ± 0.09 mL/kg body mass) was obtained with an input pressure of 0.4 kPa. The heart was not able to sustain afterload increases, values higher than 1.5 kPa impairing its performance. These morpho-functional features are consistent with a volume pump mechanical performance.
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