Elastic extracellular matrix of the embryonic chick heart: An immunohistological study using laser confocal microscopy

Juan M. Hurle, Gregory T. Kitten, Lynn Y. Sakai, Dino Volpin, Michael Solursh

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48 Scopus citations


The “elastic matrix” constitutes a specialized component of the extracellular matrix which confers resiliency to tissues and organs subjected to repeated deformations. The role of the elastic matrix in living organisms appears to be of key importance since diseases characterized by expression of defective inherited genes which encode components of the elastic matrix lead to premature death. While the elastic matrix of adult organs has received a great deal of attention, little is known about when it first appears in embryonic tissues or its possible role in developing organs. In the present study we have performed an immunohistochemical study of the distribution of elastin and three additional components often associated with elastic matrices in adult tissues (i.e., fibrillin, emilin, and type VI collagen) during the development of the chicken embryonic heart. The three‐dimensional arrangement of these components was established through the observation of wholemount specimens with scanning laser confocal microscopy. Our results revealed three different periods of heart development regarding the composition of the elastic matrix. Prior to stage 21 the embryonic heart lacks elastin but exhibits a matrix scaffold of fibrillin and emilin associated with the endocardium and the developing cardiac jelly. Between stages 22 and 29 the heart shows a transient elastic scaffold in the outflow tract which contains elastin, fibrillin, and emilin. Elastin‐positive fibrillar material is also observed during these stages in the base of the atrioventricular cushion adjacent to the myocardial wall. In addition, emilin‐positive material appears to be associated with the zones of formation of ventricular trabeculae. Collagen type VI was not detected during these early stages. From stage 30 to stage 40 a progressive modification of the pattern of distribution of elastin, fibrillin, emilin, and collagen type VI is observed in association with the formation of the definitive four‐chambered heart. The distribution of the elastic scaffold in the outflow tract appears to be rearranged and becomes restricted to the roots of the main arteries. Each of the components studied here is also deposited at increasing levels in the developing valvular apparatus including the valve leaflets and the chordae tendinea. The components are also present in the subendocardial space where they form aligned fibrillar tracts, an arrangement suggestive of a role in ventricular contractile function. The epicardium constitutes an additional region of elastic matrix deposition during these later stages and contains elastic, fibrillin, and collagen type VI. Finally, during the later stages the intramyocardial matrix (“myocardial interstitium”) is formed and characterized by an abundance of collagen type VI, emilin, and fibrillin but lacks elastin‐positive material. This study suggests that during cardiac development there is not a fixed composition of the so‐called “elastic matrix.” Rather, combinations of the different components of the elastic matrices appear to characterize the matrix associated with specific regions of the embryonic heart and may reflect the different tensile properties required in these regions during development. Possible roles for these specific elastic matrices during heart morphogenesis are discussed. © 1994 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)321-332
Number of pages12
JournalDevelopmental Dynamics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1994


  • Collagen type VI
  • Elastin
  • Embryo
  • Emilin
  • Extracellular matrix
  • Fibrillin
  • Heart development
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Myocardium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental Biology


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