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Bad Timing

Insight into development of congenital heart defects – clues for early diagnosis

26 January 2023

Bad Timing

Your heart isn't all muscle. Its muscle layer (myocardium) is sandwiched between endocardium and epicardium. Defects in the development of these layers can cause congenital heart disease (CHD), which affects one in 100 newborns. CHD can be caused by a coronary artery fistula (CAF) where a channel, partly comprising smooth muscle, develops between the coronary artery and another part of the heart. A defect in myocardium development may be to blame. Researchers investigated in chick embryos, damaging the myocardium before the epicardium layer forms. The result? Endocardium cells met epicardium cells too early, leading to CAF-like structures. The team then grew quail embryo myocardium (pictured, left) with chick embryo epicardial progenitors (right). Fluorescence microscopy revealed that where these different cells met, smooth muscle developed, and where they were apart, smooth muscle was absent. This supports the idea that CAFs form due to the inappropriately timed meeting of these cells.

Written by Lux Fatimathas

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