Background: In a recently developed chick model the teratogen retinoic acid has appeared to induce a spectrum of double outlet right ventricle, which needs further detailed evaluation. It is known that retinoic acid is able to induce cardiac malformations. Although the exact mechanism is not known, an interaction with neural crest cell function is thought to exist.
Methods: After treatment with 1 microgram all-trans retinoic acid at Hamburger and Hamilton stage 15 and reincubation until stage 34 of development 41 chicken embryos were evaluated macroscopically and microscopically, supported by graphic reconstructions. These retinoic acid treated embryos were compared with a control group (n = 8).
Results: The retinoic acid treated embryos could be divided in three groups. Group 1 (23/41) had an intact septum, group 2 (11/41) had an isolated ventricular septal defect (VSD), and group 3 (7/41) had a double outlet right ventricle (DORV). Besides, in the group with an intact septum 11 hearts showed an abnormal course of the subaortic outflow tract. In the group with DORV a straddling tricuspid orifice (7/8) and a double inlet left ventricle (1/8) could be distinguished. Considering the external contour, the hearts in the DORV group all showed a dextroposed arterial pole. Malformed pharyngeal arch arteries were found in all three groups (11/41) and with a great diversity.
Conclusions: The present cardiac malformations in the chicken as a result of retinoic acid treatment are part of a continuous spectrum, varying from hearts with an intact ventricular septum and a normal course of the subaortic outflow tract to a double outlet right ventricle with a straddling tricuspid orifice or even a double inlet left ventricle. A remarkable observation in this spectrum concerns the correlation of malformations of the inflow and outflow tracts, which is explained as a cardiac looping disturbance. The disturbance of the looping process seems to lead to malalignment of septal components, although, in the chick, retinoic acid does not in general interfere with the formation of these septal components themselves.