BACKGROUND - The increasing number of transgenic and targeted mutant mice with embryonic cardiac defects has resulted in the need for noninvasive techniques to examine cardiac structure and function in early mouse embryos. We report the first use of a novel 40-MHz ultrasound imaging system in the study of mouse cardiac development in utero.
METHODS AND RESULTS - Transabdominal scans of mouse embryos staged between 8.5 and 13.5 days of gestation (E8.5 to E13.5) were obtained in anesthetized mice. Atrial and ventricular contractions could be discerned from E9.5, and changes in cardiac morphology were observed from E9.5 to E13.5. Hyperechoic streaming patterns delineated flow through the umbilical, vitelline, and other major blood vessels. Diastolic and systolic ventricular areas were determined by planimetry of the epicardial borders, and fractional area change was measured as an index of contractile function. Significant increases in ventricular size were documented at each stage between E10.5 and E13.5, and the ability to perform serial imaging studies over 3 days of embryonic development is described. Finally, the detection of vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 (VCAM-1) homozygous null mutant embryos demonstrates the first example of noninvasive, in utero analysis of cardiac structure and function in a targeted mouse mutant.
CONCLUSIONS - We used 40-MHz echocardiography to identify key elements of the early mouse embryonic cardiovascular system and for noninvasive dimensional analysis of developing cardiac ventricles. The ability to perform serial measurements and to detect mutant embryos with cardiac defects highlights the usefulness of the technique for investigating normal and abnormal cardiovascular development.