Morphogenetic adaptation of the looping embryonic heart to altered mechanical loads



The biophysical mechanisms that drive and regulate cardiac looping are not well understood, but mechanical forces likely play a central role. Previous studies have shown that cardiac torsion, which defines left–right directionality, is caused largely by forces exerted on the heart tube by a membrane called the splanchnopleure (SPL). Here we show that, when the SPL is removed from the embryonic chick heart, torsion is initially suppressed. Several hours later, however, normal torsion is restored. This delayed torsion coincides with increased myocardial stiffness, especially on the right side of the heart. Exposure to the myosin inhibitor Y-27632 suppressed both responses, suggesting that the delayed torsion is caused by an abnormal cytoskeletal contraction. This hypothesis is supported further by computational modeling. These results suggest that the looping embryonic heart has the ability to adapt to changes in the mechanical environment, which may play a regulatory role during morphogenesis. Developmental Dynamics 235:1822–1829, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.