• morphogenesis;
  • cardiac looping;
  • heart development;
  • myocardial strain;
  • biomechanics


Optical coherence tomography (OCT) was used to investigate morphogenesis of the embryonic chick heart during the first phase of looping (c-looping), as the heart bends and twists into a c-shaped tube. The present study focuses on the morphomechanical effects of the splanchnopleure (SPL), a membrane that has been shown to play a major role in cardiac torsion by pressing against the ventral surface of the heart. Without the SPL, rightward torsion (rotation) is delayed. The images show that compressive forces exerted by the SPL alter the shapes of the heart tube and primitive atria, as well as their spatial relationships. The SPL normally holds the heart in the plane of the embryo and forces cardiac jelly (CJ) out of adjacent regions in the atria. When the SPL is removed, cross-sections become more circular, CJ is more uniformly distributed, and the heart displaces ventrally. In addition, OCT-based morphogenetic strain maps were measured during looping by tracking the three-dimensional motions of microspheres placed on the myocardium. The spatial–temporal patterns of the strains correlated well with the observed behavior of the heart, including delayed torsion that occurs in SPL-lacking embryos. These results illustrate the potential of OCT as a tool in studies of morphogenesis, as well as provide a better understanding of the mechanical forces that drive cardiac looping. Anat Rec, 290:1057–1068, 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.