The vertebrate heart: an evolutionary perspective

Andrea Stephenson, Justin W. Adams, Mauro Vaccarezza

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Convergence is the tendency of independent species to evolve similarly when subjected to the same environmental conditions. The primitive blueprint for the circulatory system emerged around 700–600 Mya and exhibits diverse physiological adaptations across the radiations of vertebrates (Subphylum Vertebrata, Phylum Chordata). It has evolved from the early chordate circulatory system with a single layered tube in the tunicate (Subphylum Urchordata) or an amphioxus (Subphylum Cephalochordata), to a vertebrate circulatory system with a two-chambered heart made up of one atrium and one ventricle in gnathostome fish (Infraphylum Gnathostomata), to a system with a three-chambered heart made up of two atria which maybe partially divided or completely separated in amphibian tetrapods (Class Amphibia). Subsequent tetrapods, including crocodiles and alligators (Order Crocodylia, Subclass Crocodylomorpha, Class Reptilia), birds (Subclass Aves, Class Reptilia) and mammals (Class Mammalia) evolved a four-chambered heart. The structure and function of the circulatory system of each individual holds a vital role which benefits each species specifically. The special characteristics of the four-chamber mammalian heart are highlighted by the peculiar structure of the myocardial muscle.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)787-797
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


  • circulatory system
  • comparative anatomy
  • evolution
  • heart
  • vertebrate

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