Ordered cardiac morphogenesis and function are essential for all vertebrate life. The heart begins as a simple contractile tube, but quickly grows and morphs into a multichambered pumping organ complete with valves, while maintaining regulation of blood flow and nutrient distribution. Though not identical, cardiac morphogenesis shares many molecular and morphological processes across vertebrate species. Quantitative data across multiple time and length scales have been gathered through decades of reductionist single variable analyses. These range from detailed molecular signaling pathways at the cellular levels to cardiac function at the tissue/organ levels. However, none of these components act in true isolation from others, and each, in turn, exhibits short- and long-range effects in both time and space. With the absence of a gene, entire signaling cascades and genetic profiles may be shifted, resulting in complex feedback mechanisms. Also taking into account local microenvironmental changes throughout development, it is apparent that a systems level approach is an essential resource to accelerate information generation concerning the functional relationships across multiple length scales (molecular data vs physiological function) and structural development. In this review, we discuss relevant in vivo and in vitro experimental approaches, compare different computational frameworks for systems modeling, and the latest information about systems modeling of cardiac development. Finally, we conclude with some important future directions for cardiac systems modeling.
Copyright © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.