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Keywords:

  • allometry;
  • cardiac innervation;
  • electron microscopy;
  • stereology

Abstract

Body mass (BM) of terrestrial mammalian species ranges from a few grams in the case of the Etruscan shrew to a few tonnes for an elephant. The mass-specific metabolic rate, as well as heart rate, decrease with increasing BM, whereas heart mass is proportional to BM. In the present study, we investigated the scaling behaviour of several compartments of the left ventricular myocardium, notably its innervation, capillaries and cardiomyocytes. Myocardial samples were taken from 10 mammalian species with BM between approximately 2 g and 900 kg. Samples were analysed by design-based stereology and electron microscopy and the resulting data were subjected to linear regression and correlation analyses. The total length of nerve fibres (axons) in the left ventricle increased from 0.017 km (0.020 km) in the shrew to 7237 km (13 938 km) in the horse. The innervation density was similar among species but the mean number of axons per nerve fibre profile increased with rising BM. The total length of capillaries increased from 0.119 km (shrew) to 10 897 km (horse). The volume of cardiomyocytes was 0.017 cm3 in the shrew and 1818 cm3 in the horse. Scaling of the data against BM indicated a higher degree of complexity of the axon tree in larger animals and an allometric relationship between total length of nerve fibres/axons and BM. In contrast, the density of nerve fibres is independent of BM. It seems that the structural components of the autonomic nervous system in the heart are related to BM and heart mass rather than to functional parameters such as metabolic rate.