The anatomy and development of normal and abnormal coronary arteries


At present, there is significant interest in the morphology of the coronary arteries, not least due to the increasingly well-recognised association between anomalous origin of the arteries and sudden cardiac death. Much has also been learnt over the last decade regarding the embryology of the arteries. In this review, therefore, we provide a brief introduction into the recent findings regarding their development. In particular, we emphasise that new evidence, derived using the developing murine heart, points to the arterial stems growing out from the adjacent sinuses of the aortic root, rather than the arteries growing in, as is currently assumed. As we show, the concept of outgrowth provides an excellent explanation for several of the abnormal arrangements encountered in the clinical setting. Before summarising these abnormal features, we draw attention to the need to describe the heart in an attitudinally appropriate manner, following the basic rule of human anatomy, rather than describing the cardiac components with the heart in the "Valentine" orientation. We then show how the major abnormalities involving the coronary arteries in humans can be summarised in terms of abnormal origin from the pulmonary circulation, abnormal aortic origin, or fistulous communications between the coronary arteries and the cardiac cavities. In the case of abnormal aortic origin, we highlight those malformations known to be associated with sudden cardiac death.

Journal details

Volume 25
Issue number 8
Pages 1493-1503
Publication date


Type of publication

Crick labs/facilities