Myocyte proliferation in the developing heart


  • David Sedmera,

    Corresponding author
    1. Charles University in Prague, First Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Anatomy, Prague, Czech Republic
    2. Institute of Physiology, Prague, Czech Republic
    • Charles University in Prague, First Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Anatomy, U nemocnice 3, 12800 Prague 2, Czech Republic
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Robert P. Thompson

    1. Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina
    Search for more papers by this author


Regulation of organ growth is critical during embryogenesis. At the cellular level, mechanisms controlling the size of individual embryonic organs include cell proliferation, differentiation, migration, and attrition through cell death. All these mechanisms play a role in cardiac morphogenesis, but experimental studies have shown that the major determinant of cardiac size during prenatal development is myocyte proliferation. As this proliferative capacity becomes severely restricted after birth, the number of cell divisions that occur during embryogenesis limits the growth potential of the postnatal heart. We summarize here current knowledge concerning regional control of myocyte proliferation as related to cardiac morphogenesis and dysmorphogenesis. There are significant spatial and temporal differences in rates of cell division, peaking during the preseptation period and then gradually decreasing toward birth. Analysis of regional rates of proliferation helps to explain the mechanics of ventricular septation, chamber morphogenesis, and the development of the cardiac conduction system. Proliferation rates are influenced by hemodynamic loading, and transduced by autocrine and paracrine signaling by means of growth factors. Understanding the biological response of the developing heart to such factors and physical forces will further our progress in engineering artificial myocardial tissues for heart repair and designing optimal treatment strategies for congenital heart disease. Developmental Dynamics 240:1322–1334, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.