The vast majority of congenital cardiac defects are due to disordered cardiac development, yet there is surprisingly little known about the fundamental processes that form the heart. To most physicians, cardiac embryology recalls memories of confusing diagrams, serially sectioned embryos, and opaque terminology. However, in the past 15 years there has been a renewed interest in cardiac development as the tools of the developmental biologist have been used to better understand how the heart forms.
The purpose of this article is to review some of the recent developments in the field of cardiac embryology and correlate this new information with the clinical experience of the cardiologists, geneticists, and epidemiologists. These developments are changing the way we are thinking about congenital cardiac disease. This is particularly important since more and more children now are surviving with congenital cardiac defects to become young adults in the reproductive age group.
Traditionally, cardiac embryology