• heart development;
  • embryo;
  • morphogenesis;
  • congenital cardiac malfomations


The early embryonic heart of vertebrates is a simple tubular pump. During the early phases of its development, the initially straight embryonic heart tube becomes transformed into a helically wound loop that is normally seen with a counterclockwise winding. This process is named cardiac looping. Such looping not only establishes the basic type of topological left-right asymmetry of the ventricular chambers but, additionally, is also said to bring the segments of the heart tube and the developing great vessels into an approximation of their definitive topographical relationships. Cardiac looping is, therefore, regarded as the key process in cardiac morphogenesis and pathologists have speculated since the beginning of the 20th century that several forms of congenital cardiac malformations (e.g., with mirror-imaged arrangement of the ventricular chambers) might result from disturbances in looping morphogenesis. In this article a review is given on (1) differences in the usage of the term cardiac looping; (2) our current knowledge of the dynamically changing anatomy of the looping embryonic heart; and (3) our current knowledge of the role of looping anomalies in the morphogenesis of congenital cardiac malformations. Clin. Anat. 22:21–35, 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.