Developing innervation of the chick heart: A histofluorescence and light microscopic study of sympathetic innervation



The available descriptions of the development of sympathetic innervation of the chick heart conflict with the known sympathetic innervation of the adult chicken heart. The adult heart is innervated by bilateral sympathetic cardiac nerves originating from the first thoracic sympathetic ganglia. These nerves travel lateral and anterior to the lung and join the vagi just before entering the pericardium along the great vessels. Using catecholamine histofluorescence techniques and silver preparations, we have observed the development of the sympathetic cardiac nerves. The sympathetic cardiac nerves arise from the first thoracic sympathetic ganglia on the 7th day of incubation. They grow lateral and then ventral to the developing lungs to join the vagi, and are found in the bulbar region of the heart and atrium on the 10th day of incubation. Fluorescent cells without processes mark the course of the sympathetic cardiac nerves and are present in the bulbar region on the 10th day and thereafter. Sympathetic ganglion cells lose their fluorescence between day 8 and day 16 of incubation. This is presumably due to dilution of the transmitter in the rapidly increasing volume of cytoplasm in the sprouting neurons. Small intensely fluorescent (SIF) and adrenal medullary cells do not undergo a diminution of fluorescence during this period. SIF cells appear well differentiated at 16 days.