Evolution of heart in vertebrates


Describe the evolution of heart in vertebrates along with diagram.

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The heart is an unpaired organ but its origin is bilateral. In an embryo the mesenchyme forms a group of endocardial cells below the pharynx. These cells become arranged to form a pair of thin endothelial tubes. The two endothelial tubes soon fuse to form a single endocardial tube lying longitudinally below the pharynx.

The splanchnic mesoderm lying below the endoderm gets folded longitudinally around the endocardial tube. This two-layered tube will form the heart in which the splanchnic mesoderm thickens to form a myocardium or muscular wall of the heart and an outer thin epicardium or visceral pericardium. The endocardial tube becomes the lining of the heart known as endocardium.

Folds of splanchnic mesoderm meet above to form a dorsal mesocardium which suspends the heart in the coelom. The coelom also devided into two chambers, an anterior pericardial cavity enclosing the heart and a posterior abdominal cavity. The heart is a straight tube but it increases in length and becomes S-shaped because its ends are fixed. Appearance of valves, constriction, partitions in the heart, and differential thickenings of its walls form three or four chambers in the heart.

Heart is a hollow muscular organ present in all vertebrates which pump blood to whole of the body. Evolutionary change in the heart is observed on the basis of separation of oxygenated and deoxygenated blood for efficient oxygen transport to the body.

1. Single-Chambered Heart:

 In primitive chordate. a true heart is not found. A part of ventral aorta beneath the pharynx is muscular and contractile and acts as heart.

Fig: T.S. of embryo showing stages in the development of heart.


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2. Two-Chambered Heart: 

In cyclostomes, there are four chambers arranged in a linear order- a thin-walled sinus venosus, a slightly muscular atrium (auricle), a muscular ventricle and a muscular conus arteriosus or bulbus cordis. It lies in the body cavity in which other visceral organs are also present.

Fig: Stages in the formation of Heart

The heart is enclosed within pericardial cavity separated from body cavity by a transverse septum. Conus pierces the pericardium and becomes continuous with the ventral aorta. Pericardial cavity communicates with the body cavity through two perforations in the transverse septum.

Teleosts. Their heart resembles to that of clasmobranchs. In teleosts, the conus is reduced and has a single pair of valves. The proximal part of ventral aorta close to conus becomes greatly enlarged and thick-walled, called bulbus arteriosus. It is elastic and dilates at the time of ventricular contraction. The heart is, thus, 2-chambered with a single circulation of blood.

3. Three-Chambered Heart:

In diphoans a septum divides the atrium into a right and left chamber. This is correlated with the use of the swim-bladder as an organ of respiration and represents the first step toward the development of the double-type circulatory system whereby both oxygenated and unoxygenated blood enter the heart and are kept separate. Blood from right auricle of the lungfish passes into the right ventricle and is then pumped into the primitive lung-like gas bladder by pulmonary arteries which branch off from the sixth pair of aortic arches. The oxygenated blood returns to the left atrium by way of pulmonary veins like amphibians.

Amphibia: In amphibians, the dorsal atrium shifts anterior to ventricle. 

sinus venosus opens into right atrium dorsally and not posteriorly. The atrium is completely divided into right and left chambers and has no foramen ovale in the inter-auricular septum, which remains open in dipnoans. Deep pockets develop in the ventricular cavity. The conus arteriosus divides into systemic and pulmonary vessels by a spiral valve. In lung less salamanders, the interatrial septum is incomplete and pulmonary veins are absent.

Reptilia: In reptiles, the heart is further advanced. The atrium is always completely separated into a right and left chamber, and in many forms the sinus venosus is incorporated into the wall of the right atrium. The ventricle is also partly divided by a septum in most reptiles, and in the alligators and crocodiles is completely two-chambered. This means that oxygenated blood coming from the lungs to the left side of the heart is essentially separated from the non-oxygenated blood from the body to the right side. Thus, in crocodilians, the two types of blood is completely separated, and nearly complete in other reptiles, but some mixing does occur in other parts of the circulatory system.

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4. Four-Chambered Heart:

Aves and Mammalia:

In birds, the ventricle is completely divided into two, so that the heart is: four chambered (2 auricles and 2 ventricles). There is complete separation of venous and arterial blood. The systemic aorta leaves the left ventricle and carries blood to the head and body. While the pulmonary artery leaves the right ventricle and carries blood to the lungs for oxygenation. Thus, there is double circulation in which there is no mixing of blood at any place. The sinus venosus is completely incorporated into right auricle, which receives two precavals and a postcaval. The left auricle receives oxygenated blood through pulmonary veins, conus arteriosus is absent, the pulmonary aorta arises from the right ventricle, and single systemic aorta arises from the left ventricle, and both have valves at their bases.

Fig: Four Chambered Heart

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