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Embryology Of The Cardiovascular System

Discover the captivating journey of embryonic development, unraveling the intricate formation and growth of the human cardiovascular system.

USMLE Guide: Embryology of the Cardiovascular System


This USMLE guide provides an overview of the embryology of the cardiovascular system. Understanding the developmental processes and changes that occur during embryogenesis is crucial for medical students preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide aims to cover the key concepts and important details related to the embryology of the cardiovascular system.

1. Early Development of the Cardiovascular System

  • The cardiovascular system starts to develop during the third week of embryogenesis.
  • The primitive heart tube forms from the merging of paired endocardial tubes.
  • The heart tube undergoes looping and folding to give rise to the four-chambered heart.

2. Formation of the heart chambers and Septa

  • The four chambers of the heart (atria and ventricles) form through partitioning of the heart tube.
  • The atrial septum develops from the fusion of the septum primum and septum secundum.
  • The ventricular septum forms through fusion of the muscular interventricular septum and the membranous interventricular septum.

3. Development of Heart Valves

  • The heart valves develop from endocardial cushions.
  • The endocardial cushions transform into the atrioventricular (AV) valves, separating the atria from the ventricles.
  • Semilunar valves form from the bulbar ridges.

4. Development of Great Vessels

  • The truncus arteriosus gives rise to the aorta and pulmonary trunk.
  • The aorticopulmonary septum divides the truncus arteriosus into the aorta and pulmonary trunk.
  • The aorta arises from the left ventricle, while the pulmonary trunk arises from the right ventricle.

5. Fetal Circulation

  • Fetal circulation differs from postnatal circulation due to the presence of shunts to bypass non-functional lungs.
  • The foramen ovale allows blood to flow from the right atrium to the left atrium, bypassing the lungs.
  • The ductus arteriosus connects the pulmonary trunk to the aorta, shunting blood away from the lungs.
  • The ductus venosus allows oxygenated blood to bypass the liver and enter the inferior vena cava.

6. Postnatal Changes in Circulation

  • At birth, the foramen ovale closes due to increased left atrial pressure.
  • The ductus arteriosus constricts and eventually closes, becoming the ligamentum arteriosum.
  • The ductus venosus constricts and becomes the ligamentum venosum.

Clinical Considerations

  • Understanding embryological development is crucial for diagnosing and managing congenital heart defects.
  • Malformations in the embryonic development of the cardiovascular system can lead to various cardiac abnormalities.
  • Knowledge of fetal circulation is important for understanding and managing neonatal cardiovascular conditions.


This USMLE guide provides a concise overview of the embryology of the cardiovascular system. Understanding the developmental processes, formation of heart chambers, septa, valves, and great vessels, as well as fetal circulation, is essential for success in the USMLE examination. Additionally, familiarity with clinical considerations related to embryological development will aid in diagnosing and managing congenital heart defects.

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