During developmental stages, biomechanical stimuli on cardiac cells modulate genetic programs, and deviations from normal stimuli can lead to cardiac defects. Therefore, it is important to characterize normal cardiac biomechanical stimuli during early developmental stages. Using the chicken embryo model of cardiac development, we focused on characterizing biomechanical stimuli on the Hamburger-Hamilton (HH) 18 chick cardiac outflow tract (OFT), the distal portion of the heart from which a large portion of defects observed in humans originate. To characterize biomechanical stimuli in the OFT, we used a combination of in vivo optical coherence tomography (OCT) imaging, physiological measurements and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling. We found that, at HH18, the proximal portion of the OFT wall undergoes larger circumferential strains than its distal portion, while the distal portion of the OFT wall undergoes larger wall stresses. Maximal wall shear stresses were generally found on the surface of endocardial cushions, which are protrusions of extracellular matrix onto the OFT lumen that later during development give rise to cardiac septa and valves. The non-uniform spatial and temporal distributions of stresses and strains in the OFT walls provide biomechanical cues to cardiac cells that likely aid in the extensive differential growth and remodeling patterns observed during normal development.
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