Differentiation of the cardiac outflow tract components in alevins of the sturgeon Acipenser naccarii (Osteichthyes, Acipenseriformes): Implications for heart evolution



Previous work showed that in the adult sturgeon an intrapericardial, nonmyocardial segment is interposed between the conus arteriosus of the heart and the ventral aorta. The present report illustrates the ontogeny of this intermediate segment in Acipenser naccarii. The sample studied consisted of 178 alevins between 1 and 24 days posthatching. They were examined using light and electron microscopy. Our observations indicate that the entire cardiac outflow tract displays a myocardial character during early development. Between the fourth and sixth days posthatching, the distal portion of the cardiac outflow tract undergoes a phenotypical transition, from a myocardial to a smooth muscle-like phenotype. The length of this region with regard to the whole outflow tract increases only moderately during subsequent developmental stages, becoming more and more cellularized. The cells soon organize into a pattern that resembles that of the arterial wall. Elastin appears at this site by the seventh day posthatching. Therefore, two distinct components, proximal and distal, can be recognized from the fourth day posthatching in the cardiac outflow tract of A. naccarii. The proximal component is the conus arteriosus, characterized by its myocardial nature and the presence of endocardial cushions. The distal component transforms into the intrapericardial, nonmyocardial segment mentioned above, which is unequivocally of cardiac origin. We propose to designate this segment the “bulbus arteriosus” because it is morphogenetically equivalent to the bulbus arteriosus of teleosts. The present findings, together with data from the literature, point to the possibility that cells from the cardiac neural crest are involved in the phenotypical transition that takes place at the distal portion of the cardiac outflow tract, resulting in the appearance of the bulbus arteriosus. Moreover, they suggest that the cardiac outflow tract came to be formed by a bulbus arteriosus and a conus arteriosus from an early period of the vertebrate evolutionary story. Finally, we hypothesize that the embryonic truncus of birds and mammals is homologous to the bulbus arteriosus of fish. J. Morphol. 260:172–183, 2004. © 2004 Wiley–Liss, Inc.