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Smooth Muscle in Cardiac Chambers is Common in Turtles and Extensive in the Emydid Turtle, Trachemys scripta

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  • ar.24257

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A prominent layer of smooth muscle lining the luminal side of the atria of freshwater turtles (Emydidae) was described more than a century ago. We recently demonstrated that this smooth muscle provides a previously unrecognized mechanism to change cardiac output in the emydid red-eared slider (Trachemys scripta) that possibly contributes to their tremendous diving capacity. The purpose of the present immunohistochemical study was firstly to screen major groups of vertebrates for the presence of cardiac smooth muscle. Secondly, we investigated the phylogenetic distribution of cardiac smooth muscle within the turtle order (Testudines), including terrestrial and aquatic species. Atrial smooth muscle was not detected in a range of vertebrates, including Xenopus laevis, Alligator mississippiensis, and Caiman crocodilus, all of which have pronounced diving capacities. However, we confirmed earlier reports that traces of smooth muscle are found in human atrial tissue. Only within the turtles (eight species) was there substantial amounts of nonvascular smooth muscle in the heart. This amount was greatest in the atria, while the amount in proportion to cardiac muscle was greater in the sinus venosus than in other chambers. T. scripta had more smooth muscle in the sinus venosus and atria than the other turtles. In some specimens, there was some smooth muscle in the ventricle and the pulmonary vein. Our study demonstrates that cardiac smooth muscle likely appeared early in turtle evolution and has become extensive within the Emydidae family, possibly in association with diving. Across other tetrapod clades, cardiac smooth muscle might not associate with diving. Anat Rec, 303:1327–1336, 2020.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe Anatomical Record: Advances in Integrative Anatomy and Evolutionary Biology
Pages (from-to)1327-1336
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - May 2020

    Research areas

  • cardiac function, diving physiology, heart anatomy, stroke volume

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