The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 46: 765 - 775 (2002)

Vol 46, Issue 6

Induction and patterning of the cardiac conduction system

Published: 30 November -0001

David J Pennisi, Stacey Rentschler, Robert G Gourdie, Glenn I Fishman and Takashi Mikawa

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, Cornell University Medical College, New York, NY 10021, USA.


The cardiac conduction system (CCS) is the component of the heart that initiates and maintains a rhythmic heartbeat. As the embryonic heart forms, the CCS must continue to develop and mature in a coordinated manner to ensure that proper pace making potential and distribution of action potential is maintained at all stages. This requires not only the formation of distinct and disparate components of the CCS, but the integration of these components into a functioning whole as the heart matures. Though research in this area of development may have lagged behind other areas of heart development, in recent years there has been much progress in understanding the ontogeny of the CCS and the developmental cues that drive its formation. This is largely due to studies on the avian heart as well as the use of molecular biology approaches. This review gives a perspective on advances in understanding the development of the vertebrate CCS, and reports new data illuminating the mechanism of conduction cell determination and maintenance in the mammalian heart. As much of our knowledge about the development of the CCS has been derived from the chick embryo, one important area facing the field is the relationship and similarities between the structure and development of avian and mammalian conduction systems. Specifically, the morphology of the distal elements of the mammalian CCS and the manner in which its components are recruited from working cardiomyocytes are areas of research that will, hopefully, receive more attention in the near future. A more general and outstanding question is how the disparate components of all vertebrate conduction systems integrate into a functional entity during embryogenesis. There is mounting evidence linking the patterning and formation of the CCS to instructive cues derived from the cardiac vasculature and, more specifically, to hemodynamic-responsive factors produced by cardiac endothelia. This highlights the need for a greater understanding of the biophysical forces acting on, and created by, the cardiovascular system during embryonic development. A better understanding of these processes will be necessary if therapeutics are to be developed that allow the regeneration of damaged cardiac tissues or the construction of biologically engineered heart tissues.

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