A pictorial account of the human embryonic heart between 3.5 and 8 weeks of development

Heart development is topographically complex and requires visualization to understand its progression. No comprehensive three-dimensional primer of human cardiac development was available. We, therefore, prepared detailed reconstructions of 12 hearts between 3.5 and 8 weeks post fertilization.

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We describe the developmental appearance of the heart and subsequent remodeling of 70 different structures incrementally, using sequential segmental analysis. 

Pictorial timelines of structures highlight age-dependent events, while graphs visualize growth and spiraling of the wall of the heart tube. The basic cardiac layout is established between 3.5 and 4.5 weeks. Septation at the venous pole is completed at 6 weeks. Between 5.5 and 6.5 weeks, as the outflow tract becomes incorporated in the ventricles, the spiraling course of its subaortic and subpulmonary channels is transferred to the intrapericardial arterial trunks. The remodeling of the interventricular foramen is complete at 7 weeks.

Three-dimensional Heart Development Figure: Three-dimensional overview of human cardiac development. 

The reader is encouraged simultaneously to read the text and inspect the corresponding interactive PDFs of human cardiac development between CS9 and CS23 (3.5-8 weeks of development). This is because their rotational options (“live” images) allow a much better understanding of the complex local topography than do “still” images and text.

Click on this link  for instruction 'how to use such an interactive 3D-PDF'. Please download PDF-file first and open with Adobe Reader.

An example of our 4.5 week model can directly be viewed via this hyperlink, while all other stages are enclosed in our Supplemental Information file.

Jill Hikspoors

Assistant professor, Maastricht University