Preterm birth prematurely exposes the immature heart to the haemodynamic transition at birth, which has the potential to induce abnormal cardiac remodelling. Magnetic resonance imaging studies in young adults born preterm have shown abnormalities in the gross structure of the ventricles (particularly the right ventricle; RV), but the cellular basis of these alterations is unknown. The aim of this study, conducted in sheep, was to determine the effect of moderate preterm birth on RV cellular structure and function in early adulthood. Male singleton lambs were delivered moderately preterm (132 ± 1 days; n = 7) or at term (147 ± 1 days; n = 7). At 14.5 months of age, intra-arterial blood pressure and heart rate were measured. Pulmonary artery diameter and peak systolic blood flow were determined using ultrasound imaging, and RV stroke volume and output calculated. Cardiomyocyte number, size, nuclearity, and levels of cardiac fibrosis were subsequently assessed in perfusion-fixed hearts using image analysis and stereological methods. Blood pressure (systolic, diastolic and mean), heart rate, levels of myocardial fibrosis and RV stroke volume and output were not different between groups. There was, however, a significant reduction in RV wall thickness in preterm sheep, and this was accompanied by a significant reduction in peak systolic blood flow in the pulmonary artery and in RV cardiomyocyte number. Cellular changes in the RV wall and reduced pulmonary artery blood flow following preterm birth have the potential to adversely impact cardiac and respiratory hemodynamics, especially when the cardiovascular system is physiologically or pathologically challenged.
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