Background: The right ventricle (RV) often fails when functioning as the systemic ventricle, but the cause is not understood. We tested the hypothesis that myofiber organization is abnormal in the failing systemic right ventricle.
Methods: We used diffusion-weighted cardiovascular magnetic resonance imaging to examine 3 failing hearts explanted from young patients with a systemic RV and one structurally normal heart with postnatally acquired RV hypertrophy for comparison. Diffusion compartment imaging was computed to separate the free diffusive component representing free water from an anisotropic component characterizing the orientation and diffusion characteristics of myofibers. The orientation of each anisotropic compartment was displayed in glyph format and used for qualitative description of myofibers and for construction of tractograms. The helix angle was calculated across the ventricular walls in 5 locations and displayed graphically. Scalar parameters (fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity) were compared among specimens.
Results: The hypertrophied systemic RV has an inner layer, comprising about 2/3 of the wall, composed of hypertrophied trabeculae and an epicardial layer of circumferential myofibers. Myofibers within smaller trabeculae are aligned and organized with parallel fibers while larger, composite bundles show marked disarray, largely between component trabeculae. We observed a narrow range of helix angles in the outer, compact part of the wall consistent with aligned, approximately circumferential fibers. However, there was marked variation of helix angle in the inner, trabecular part of the wall consistent with marked variation in fiber orientation. The apical whorl was disrupted or incomplete and we observed myocardial whorls or vortices at other locations. Fractional anisotropy was lower in abnormal hearts while mean diffusivity was more variable, being higher in 2 but lower in 1 heart, compared to the structurally normal heart.
Conclusions: Myofiber organization is abnormal in the failing systemic RV and might be an important substrate for heart failure and arrhythmia. It is unclear if myofiber disorganization is due to hemodynamic factors, developmental problems, or both.