The early stages of heart development: insights from chicken embryos

Johannes Wittig, Andrea Munsterberg (Lead Author)

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The heart is the first functioning organ in the developing embryo and the detailed understanding of the molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in its formation provides insights into congenital malformations affecting its function and therefore the survival of the organism. Because many developmental mechanisms are highly conserved, it is possible to extrapolate from observations made in invertebrate and vertebrate model organisms to human. This review will highlight the contributions made through studying heart development in avian embryos, particularly the chicken. The major advantage of chick embryos is their accessibility for surgical manipulations and functional interference approaches, both gain- and loss-of-function. In addition to experiments performed in ovo, the dissection of tissues for ex vivo culture, genomic or biochemical approaches, is straightforward. Furthermore, embryos can be cultured for time-lapse imaging, which enables tracking of fluorescently labeled cells and detailed analyses of tissue morphogenesis. Owing to these features, investigations in chick embryos have led to important discoveries, often complementing genetic studies in mouse and zebrafish. As well as including some historical aspects, we cover here some of the crucial advances made in understanding of early heart development using the chicken model.
Original languageEnglish
Article number12
JournalJournal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2016


  • chick embryo
  • fate mapping
  • heart fields
  • morphogenesis
  • in ovo studies

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