Heart formation is a complex, dynamic and highly coordinated process of molecular, morphogenetic and functional factors with each interacting and contributing to formation of the mature organ. Cardiac abnormalities in early life can be lethal in mammals but not in the zebrafish embryo which has been widely used to study the developing heart. While early cardiac development in the zebrafish has been well characterized, functional changes during development and how these relate to architectural, cellular and molecular aspects of development have not been well described previously. To address this we have carefully characterised cardiac structure, function, cardiomyocyte proliferation and cardiac-specific gene expression between 48 and 120 hpf in the zebrafish. We show that the zebrafish heart increases in volume and changes shape significantly between 48 and 72 hpf accompanied by a 40% increase in cardiomyocyte number. Between 96 and 120 hpf, while external heart expansion slows, there is rapid formation of a mature and extensive trabecular network within the ventricle chamber. While ejection fraction does not change during the course of development other determinants of contractile function increase significantly particularly between 72 and 96 hpf leading to an increase in cardinal vein blood flow. This study has revealed a number of novel aspects of cardiac developmental dynamics with striking temporal orchestration of structure and function within the first few days of development. These changes are associated with changes in expression of developmental and maturational genes. This study provides important insights into the complex temporal relationship between structure and function of the developing zebrafish heart.
Keywords: Development; Heart; Mechanisms; Zebrafish.
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