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01-03-2011 | ICIN | Uitgave 3/2011 Open Access

Netherlands Heart Journal 3/2011

Archetype, adaptation and the mammalian heart

Netherlands Heart Journal > Uitgave 3/2011
F. L. Meijler, T. D. Meijler
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†F. L. Meijler died on December 28, 2010. Correspondence should be addressed to E. E. van der Wall.


Forty years ago, we started our quest for ‘The Holy Grail’ of understanding ventricular rate control and rhythm in atrial fibrillation (AF). We therefore studied the morphology and function of a wide range of mammalian hearts. From mouse to whale, we found that all hearts show similar structural and functional characteristics. This suggests that the mammalian heart remained well conserved during evolution and in this aspect it differs from other organs and parts of the mammalian body. The archetype of the mammalian heart was apparently so successful that adaptation by natural selection (evolution) caused by varying habitat demands, as occurred in other organs and many other aspects of mammalian anatomy, bypassed the heart. The structure and function of the heart of placental mammals have thus been strikingly conserved throughout evolution. The changes in the mammalian heart that did take place were mostly adjustments (scaling), to compensate for variations in body size and shape. A remarkable scaling effect is, for instance, the difference in atrioventricular (AV) conduction time, which is vital for optimal cardiac function in all mammals, small and large. Scaling of AV conduction takes place in the AV node (AVN), but its substrate is unknown. This sheds new light on the vital role of the AVN in health and disease. The AVN is master and servant of the heart at the same time and is of salient importance for our understanding of supraventricular arrhythmias in humans, especially AF. In Information Technology a software infra-structure called ‘enterprise service bus’ (ESB) may provide understanding of the mammalian heart’s conservation during evolution. The ESB is quite unspecific (and thus general) when compared with the specialised components it has to support. For instance, one of the functions of an ESB is the routing of messages between system nodes. This routing is independent and unaware of the content of the messages. The function of the heart is likewise independent and unaware of the routing of blood (oxygen) and of the specialised components of the mammalian body it has to support. Conclusions Evolution seems to have bypassed the heart, which is in contrast to the sometimes similarly looking, but yet quite differently functioning of the other organs of the mammalian body.

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Netherlands Heart Journal

Het Netherlands Heart Journal wordt uitgegeven in samenwerking met de Nederlandse Vereniging voor Cardiologie en de Nederlandse Hartstichting. Het tijdschrift is Engelstalig en wordt gratis beschikbaa ...

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