do birds have 4 chambered hearts

The human heart consists of four chambers – two atria and two ventricles – that expand and contract in order to drive blood containing oxygen and nutrients throughout the body. The atria, which have relatively thin walls, fill first, before squeezing the blood into the much stronger ventricles, which then contract to send blood coursing through our arteries. Most reptiles have two atria and one ventricle. The only exceptions are the 23 living species of crocodilians (alligators, caimans, crocodiles and gharials) who, like birds and mammals, have four-chambered hearts with two atria and two ventricles (Jones, 1996; Jensen et al., 2014).

In vertebrates, each heartbeat is initiated when a pacemaker region in one of the atria generates an electrical signal. The structure and exact location of the pacemaker region differ amongst species (Jensen et al., 2017), but it is always innervated by the autonomic nervous system. This allows the body to increase or decrease the heart rate in response to metabolic demands (Wang, 2012).

The electrical signal from the pacemaker region spreads rapidly across the cardiac muscle cells of the atria via structures called gap junctions, and this ensures that the entire wall of each atrium contracts almost simultaneously. Neurons called Purkinje fibers are also involved in this process in birds but, in general, the mechanisms responsible for the contraction of the atria are similar in most vertebrates. However, the way in which the electrical signal travels from the atrium to the ventricle differs amongst vertebrates, and the evolution of this pathway has been the focus of considerable attention for many decades (Davies, 1942; Jensen et al., 2012, 2013). Now, in eLife, Vincent Christoffels of the University of Amsterdam and colleagues – including Bjarke Jensen and Bastiaan Boukens as joint first authors – report new and surprising findings about this phenomenon in alligators (Jensen et al., 2018).

Back in the 17th century, William Harvey had already noticed that the atria contract before the ventricles in a number of different animals. This meant that the electrical signal generated in the pacemaker region must somehow be slowed down at the border between the atria and the ventricles. In both mammals and birds, a layer of fibrous fatty tissue – which does not conduct electricity – insulates the ventricles from the atria. The only way that the electrical signal can pass from the atria to the ventricles is via a small structure called the atrioventricular node, which is positioned immediately above the septum that separates the left and right ventricles. When the electrical signal reaches this node, it activates two bundles of neurons (containing His fibers and Purkinje fibers) that swiftly relay the impulse and cause the ventricles to contract simultaneously.

However, in extant reptiles, the common ancestor of both birds and mammals, there does not seem to be an insulating layer or an anatomically defined node (Davies, 1942). Instead, the electrical signal is slowed down by an intricate arrangement of myocardial fibers at the junction between the two atria and the ventricle. In addition, recent studies have been unable to provide any anatomical evidence for a conduction system in the ventricle of reptiles. The electrical signal appears to be conveyed by the internal lining of the heart, which shares molecular signatures with the conduction system found in birds and mammals (Jensen et al., 2012).

While reptiles rely on their environment to maintain their temperature (that is, they are ectothermic), mammals produce their own heat (so they are endothermic). The high levels of metabolism needed to produce enough warmth means that the resting and maximal metabolic rates of mammals and birds are about 10 times higher than those of ectothermic animals (Bennett and Ruben, 1979). The cardiovascular system must keep up with these greater needs by delivering more oxygen to the body. The four-chambered heart provides an efficient solution by keeping oxygenated and non-oxygenated blood separate. The supply of oxygen to the body can also be improved by increasing how often the heart contracts. This requires cardiac structures that quickly conduct electricity, such as the atrioventricular nodes (Burggren et al., 2014).

Jensen et al. – who are based in Amsterdam and labs in the United States and the Czech Republic – combine electrophysiology and gene expression techniques to identify how electric impulses spread across the crocodilian heart, and to characterize the molecular phenotype of the various chambers. The experiments provided unequivocal evidence of an atrioventricular node in crocodilians. Among extant reptiles, crocodilians are the closest living sister group to birds. However, despite their four-chambered hearts and an atrioventricular node, all living crocodilians are clearly ectothermic and have low heart rates like other reptiles (Hillman and Hedrick, 2015; Lillywhite et al., 1999; Joyce et al., 2018).

With their ability to walk with their body off the ground, their peculiar respiratory muscles, their avian-like lungs and various other traits, crocodilians may have once been endothermic (Seymour et al., 2004; Hillenius and Ruben, 2004). According to this hypothesis, they switched to ectothermy when they adopted an entirely aquatic life style and became sit-and-wait predators with intermittent meals separated by long fasting periods. However, if past crocodilians had warm blood and some of the associated heart structures, have extant species lost their His and Purkinje fibers? Would these cells – which support high-speed electrical signals – pose functional problems in animals with very low heart rates?

The fact that crocodilians have an atrioventricular node also sheds light on the evolution of the vertebrate heart. For example, the mere presence of a node and a division between the ventricles may be enough to prevent the electrical signal from re-entering the atria (which would disrupt the operation of the heart). These findings may also suggest that a nodal structure allows better fine-tuning of the heart rate by the autonomic nervous system.

The next step is to characterize the electrophysiological properties of the cells in the atrioventricular node of crocodilians. Electrocardiogram recordings would also help to understand the exact timing of cardiac events, while flow and pressure measurements would capture the dynamics of the blood flow. There may still be delightful discoveries awaiting us inside the four chambers of the crocodilian heart.

Article and author information

  • Tobias Wang Tobias Wang can be reached by correspondence at the Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies (AIAS) and the Department of Zoophysiology at Aarhus University in Denmark. wang@bios. au. dk Competing interests No competing interests declared .

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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  • Correlated with Bjarke Jensen, Bastiaan J. Boukens, Specialized impulse conduction pathway in the alligator heart Vincent M Christoffels .
  • Further reading
  • Developmental Biology Bastiaan J. Boukens, Bjarke Jensen, Specialized impulse conduction pathway in the alligator heart Vincent M. Christoffels The atrioventricular conduction system of mammals and birds is unique in that it allows for the quick activation of both ventricles. This system appears absent from ectothermic vertebrates, from which birds and mammals separately evolved, and may have evolved alongside high heart rates to support their endothermic state (warm-bloodedness). Since crocodiles (Alligator mississippiensis) are the only ectothermic vertebrates with a complete ventricular septum, we examined their conduction system in this study. Tbx3-Tbx5, Scn5a, Gja5, Nppa-Nppb, homologues of the markers of the mammalian conduction system, are identified, and we demonstrate the existence of a functional atrioventricular bundle. Slow ventricular conduction, as in other ectothermic vertebrates, depended on the trabecular myocardium due to the absence of the ventricular Purkinje network. We suggest that before high heart rates and endothermy developed, the atrioventricular bundle underwent full ventricular septum formation. In contrast, endothermy and high heart rates are closely linked to the development of the ventricular Purkinje network.
  • Affinity-tagged SMAD1 and SMAD5 mouse lines reveal transcriptional reprogramming mechanisms during early pregnancy Developmental Biology, Genetics, and Genomics Zian Liao, Suni Tang Martin Matzuk The progesterone receptor (PR) and bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-SMAD1/SMAD5 signaling pathways are responsible for transcriptional reprogramming, which is necessary for endometrial decidualization, a necessary condition for successful pregnancies. It is still unknown how these pathways interact to rewire the endometrium into a receptive state, despite their crucial roles in the early stages of pregnancy. Using affinity tags inserted into the endogenous SMAD1 and SMAD5 loci (Smad1HA/HA and Smad5PA/PA), we created two novel transgenic mouse lines to investigate how SMAD1 and/or SMAD5 integrate BMP signaling in the uterus during early pregnancy. We were able to show the distinct and combined functions of SMAD1 and SMAD5 during the implantation window by analyzing the genome-wide distribution of SMAD1, SMAD5, and PR in the mouse uterus. Additionally, we demonstrated that early in pregnancy, the uterus contained a conserved genomic binding signature for SMAD1, SMAD5, and PR. We showed that SMAD1/5 knockdown in human endometrial stromal cells suppressed expressions of canonical decidual markers (IGFBP1, PRL, FOXO1) and PR-responsive genes (RORB, KLF15) in order to functionally characterize the translational aspects of our findings. Here, our research offers new instruments for examining BMP signaling pathways and emphasizes the essential functions of SMAD1/5 in mediating the transcriptional response to progesterone (P4) in the early stages of pregnancy as well as BMP signaling pathways.
  • Tariq Zaman and Daniel Vogt Developmental Biology and Neuroscience Kit Ligand and Kit receptor tyrosine kinase maintain synaptic inhibition of Purkinje cells Michael R. Williams One essential way that neurons control connectivity is through the cell-type-specific expression of ligand/receptor and cell-adhesion molecules. Here, we ascertain the functional significance of the long-established mutually exclusive expression by distinct neuronal populations in the mammalian brain of the receptor tyrosine kinase Kit and the transmembrane protein Kit Ligand. The cerebellar cortex’s molecular layer interneurons (MLIs) are abundant in Kit. e. stellate and basket cells), whereas Purkinje cells (PCs), a target of their inhibition, express cerebellar Kit Ligand selectively. Through in vivo genetic manipulation spanning from embryonic development to adulthood, we show that MLI Kit and PC Kit Ligand are necessary for and able to modify PCs’ inhibition. All together, these studies in mice show that the Kit Ligand/Kit receptor dyad maintains the function of mammalian central synapses and provide an explanation for the association between Kit mutation and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Exercise as hard as you like. Compared to a bird, your heart will continue to beat slowly.

Birds’ bodies maintain a constant temperature, around 106 degrees. In relation to body size, their four chambered hearts are larger than those of mammals, and they are paired with incredibly effective cardiovascular systems.

However, a human athlete’s heart rate during exercise only reaches about 150 beats per minute—a tiny portion of the hummingbird’s heart rate.

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What animal has a 4 chamber heart?

Mammals and birds, for example, have four-chambered hearts, with two ventricles and two atria. Frog, crocodile, ostrich, pigeon, bat, and whale all have four chambers in their hearts.

Which animal has a 5 chamber heart?

Earthworm. Depending on how you define your terms, earthworms either have five hearts, or no heart at all. While they lack the chambered, muscular organ that normally comes to mind, they do have five special blood vessels, called aortic arches, that contract in order to pump blood through the worm’s body.

What is the only reptile with 4 chambered heart?

Crocodile is the only reptile that has a four-chambered heart.

Do humans have 4 chambered hearts?

There are four chambers: the left atrium and right atrium (upper chambers), and the left ventricle and right ventricle (lower chambers).