Exercises in anatomy: cardiac isomerism

Anderson, R. H.; Sarwark, A. E.; Spicer, D. E.; Backer, C. L.

Multimed Man Cardiothorac Surg. 2014 Dec 31; 2014


It is well recognized that the patients with the most complex cardiac malformations are those with so-called visceral heterotaxy. At present, it remains a fact that most investigators segregate these patients on the basis of their splenic anatomy, describing syndromes of so-called asplenia and polysplenia. It has also been known for quite some time, nonetheless, that the morphology of the tracheobronchial tree is usually isomeric in the setting of heterotaxy. And it has been shown that the isomerism found in terms of bronchial arrangement correlates in a better fashion with the cardiac anatomy than does the presence of multiple spleens, or the absence of any splenic tissue. In this exercise in anatomy, we use hearts from the Idriss archive of Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago to demonstrate the isomeric features found in the hearts obtained from patients known to have had heterotaxy. We first demonstrate the normal arrangements, showing how it is the extent of the pectinate muscles in the atrial appendages relative to the atrioventricular junctions that distinguishes between morphologically right and left atrial chambers. We also show the asymmetry of the normal bronchial tree, and the relationships of the first bronchial branches to the pulmonary arteries supplying the lower lobes of the lungs. We then demonstrate that diagnosis of multiple spleens requires the finding of splenic tissue on either side of the dorsal mesogastrium. Turning to hearts obtained from patients with heterotaxy, we illustrate isomeric right and left atrial appendages. We emphasize that it is only the appendages that are universally isomeric, but point out that other features support the notion of cardiac isomerism. We then show that description also requires a full account of veno-atrial connections, since these can seemingly be mirror-imaged when the arrangement within the heart is one of isomerism of the atrial appendages. We show how failure to recognize the presence of such isomeric appendages can lead to spurious diagnoses of discordant atrioventricular connections. Overall, we show that the finding of isomeric atrial appendages, guided by the finding of bronchial isomerism, is but the prelude to full segmental sequential analysis.

Read More on PubMed