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Tunicates, small invertebrates within the phylum Chordata, possess a robust tubular heart which pumps blood through their open circulatory systems without the use of valves. This heart consists of two major components: the tubular myocardium, a flexible layer of myocardial cells that actively contracts to drive fluid down the length of the tube; and the pericardium, a stiff, outer layer of cells that surrounds the myocardium and creates a fluid-filled space between the myocardium and the pericardium. We investigated the role of the pericardium through in vivo manipulations on tunicate hearts and computational simulations of the myocardium and pericardium using the immersed boundary method. Experimental manipulations reveal that damage to the pericardium results in aneurysm-like bulging of the myocardium and major reductions in the net blood flow and percentage closure of the heart's lumen during contraction. In addition, varying the pericardium-to-myocardium (PM) diameter ratio by increasing damage severity was positively correlated with peak dye flow in the heart. Computational simulations mirror the results of varying the PM ratio experimentally. Reducing the stiffness of the myocardium in the simulations reduced mean blood flow only for simulations without a pericardium. These results indicate that the pericardium has the ability to functionally increase the stiffness of the myocardium and limit myocardial aneurysms. The pericardium's function is likely to enhance flow through the highly resistive circulatory system by acting as a support structure in the absence of connective tissue within the myocardium.


This article was originally published in Journal of Experimental Biology, volume 218, issue 17, in 2015.


The Company of Biologists



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