Critical Transitions in Early Embryonic Aortic Arch Patterning and Hemodynamics
Transformation from the bilaterally symmetric embryonic aortic arches to the mature great vessels is a complex morphogenetic process, requiring both vasculogenic and angiogenic mechanisms. Early aortic arch development occurs simultaneously with rapid changes in pulsatile blood flow, ventricular function, and downstream impedance in both invertebrate and vertebrate species. These dynamic biomechanical environmental landscapes provide critical epigenetic cues for vascular growth and remodeling. In our previous work, we examined hemodynamic loading and aortic arch growth in the chick embryo at Hamburger-Hamilton stages 18 and 24. We provided the first quantitative correlation between wall shear stress (WSS) and aortic arch diameter in the developing embryo, and observed that these two stages contained different aortic arch patterns with no inter-embryo variation. In the present study, we investigate these biomechanical events in the intermediate stage 21 to determine insights into this critical transition. We performed fluorescent dye microinjections to identify aortic arch patterns and measured diameters using both injection recordings and high-resolution optical coherence tomography. Flow and WSS were quantified with 3D computational fluid dynamics (CFD). Dye injections revealed that the transition in aortic arch pattern is not a uniform process and multiple configurations were documented at stage 21. CFD analysis showed that WSS is substantially elevated compared to both the previous (stage 18) and subsequent (stage 24) developmental time-points. These results demonstrate that acute increases in WSS are followed by a period of vascular remodeling to restore normative hemodynamic loading. Fluctuations in blood flow are one possible mechanism that impacts the timing of events such as aortic arch regression and generation, leading to the variable configurations at stage 21. Aortic arch variations noted during normal rapid vascular remodeling at stage 21 identify a temporal window of increased vulnerability to aberrant aortic arch morphogenesis with the potential for profound effects on subsequent cardiovascular morphogenesis.