Investigating developmental cardiovascular biomechanics and the origins of congenital heart defects.
Innovative research on the interactions between biomechanical load and cardiovascular (CV) morphogenesis by multiple investigators over the past 3 decades, including the application of bioengineering approaches, has shown that the embryonic heart adapts both structure and function in order to maintain cardiac output to the rapidly growing embryo. Acute adaptive hemodynamic mechanisms in the embryo include the redistribution of blood flow within the heart, dynamic adjustments in heart rate and developed pressure, and beat to beat variations in blood flow and vascular resistance. These biomechanically relevant events occur coincident with adaptive changes in gene expression and trigger adaptive mechanisms that include alterations in myocardial cell growth and death, regional and global changes in myocardial architecture, and alterations in central vascular morphogenesis and remodeling. These adaptive mechanisms allow the embryo to survive these biomechanical stresses (environmental, maternal) and to compensate for developmental errors (genetic). Recent work from numerous laboratories shows that a subset of these adaptive mechanisms is present in every developing multicellular organism with a "heart" equivalent structure. This chapter will provide the reader with an overview of some of the approaches used to quantify embryonic CV functional maturation and performance, provide several illustrations of experimental interventions that explore the role of biomechanics in the regulation of CV morphogenesis including the role of computational modeling, and identify several critical areas for future investigation as available experimental models and methods expand.