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The heart is one of the first organs to develop during mammalian embryogenesis. In the mouse, it starts to form shortly after gastrulation, and is derived primarily from embryonic mesoderm. The embryonic heart is unique in having to perform a mechanical contractile function while undergoing complex morphogenetic remodeling. Approaches to imaging the morphogenesis and contractile activity of the developing heart are important in understanding not only how this remodeling is controlled but also the origin of congenital heart defects (CHDs). Here, we describe approaches for visualizing contractile activity in the developing mouse embryo, using brightfield time lapse microscopy and confocal microscopy of calcium transients. We describe an algorithm for enhancing this image data and quantifying contractile activity from it. Finally we describe how atomic force microscopy can be used to record contractile activity prior to it being microscopically visible.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Physiol

Publication Date





atomic force microscopy, calcium transients, cardiac development, contraction mapping, mouse embryo, time lapse imaging