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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the development of blood vessels
  • Describe the fetal circulation

In a developing embryo,the heart has developed enough by day 21 post-fertilization to begin beating. Circulation patterns are clearly established by the fourth week of embryonic life. It is critical to the survival of the developing human that the circulatory system forms early to supply the growing tissue with nutrients and gases, and to remove waste products. Blood cells and vessel production in structures outside the embryo proper called the yolk sac, chorion, and connecting stalk begin about 15 to 16 days following fertilization. Development of these circulatory elements within the embryo itself begins approximately 2 days later. You will learn more about the formation and function of these early structures when you study the chapter on development. During those first few weeks, blood vessels begin to form from the embryonic mesoderm. The precursor cells are known as hemangioblasts    . These in turn differentiate into angioblasts    , which give rise to the blood vessels and pluripotent stem cells, which differentiate into the formed elements of blood. (Seek additional content for more detail on fetal development and circulation.) Together, these cells form masses known as blood islands    scattered throughout the embryonic disc. Spaces appear on the blood islands that develop into vessel lumens. The endothelial lining of the vessels arise from the angioblasts within these islands. Surrounding mesenchymal cells give rise to the smooth muscle and connective tissue layers of the vessels. While the vessels are developing, the pluripotent stem cells begin to form the blood.

Vascular tubes also develop on the blood islands, and they eventually connect to one another as well as to the developing, tubular heart. Thus, the developmental pattern, rather than beginning from the formation of one central vessel and spreading outward, occurs in many regions simultaneously with vessels later joining together. This angiogenesis    —the creation of new blood vessels from existing ones—continues as needed throughout life as we grow and develop.

Blood vessel development often follows the same pattern as nerve development and travels to the same target tissues and organs. This occurs because the many factors directing growth of nerves also stimulate blood vessels to follow a similar pattern. Whether a given vessel develops into an artery or a vein is dependent upon local concentrations of signaling proteins.

As the embryo grows within the mother’s uterus, its requirements for nutrients and gas exchange also grow. The placenta—a circulatory organ unique to pregnancy—develops jointly from the embryo and uterine wall structures to fill this need. Emerging from the placenta is the umbilical vein    , which carries oxygen-rich blood from the mother to the fetal inferior vena cava via the ductus venosus to the heart that pumps it into fetal circulation. Two umbilical arteries    carry oxygen-depleted fetal blood, including wastes and carbon dioxide, to the placenta. Remnants of the umbilical arteries remain in the adult. (Seek additional content for more information on the role of the placenta in fetal circulation.)

There are three major shunts—alternate paths for blood flow—found in the circulatory system of the fetus. Two of these shunts divert blood from the pulmonary to the systemic circuit, whereas the third connects the umbilical vein to the inferior vena cava. The first two shunts are critical during fetal life, when the lungs are compressed, filled with amniotic fluid, and nonfunctional, and gas exchange is provided by the placenta. These shunts close shortly after birth, however, when the newborn begins to breathe. The third shunt persists a bit longer but becomes nonfunctional once the umbilical cord is severed. The three shunts are as follows ( [link] ):

  • The foramen ovale    is an opening in the interatrial septum that allows blood to flow from the right atrium to the left atrium. A valve associated with this opening prevents backflow of blood during the fetal period. As the newborn begins to breathe and blood pressure in the atria increases, this shunt closes. The fossa ovalis remains in the interatrial septum after birth, marking the location of the former foramen ovale.
  • The ductus arteriosus    is a short, muscular vessel that connects the pulmonary trunk to the aorta. Most of the blood pumped from the right ventricle into the pulmonary trunk is thereby diverted into the aorta. Only enough blood reaches the fetal lungs to maintain the developing lung tissue. When the newborn takes the first breath, pressure within the lungs drops dramatically, and both the lungs and the pulmonary vessels expand. As the amount of oxygen increases, the smooth muscles in the wall of the ductus arteriosus constrict, sealing off the passage. Eventually, the muscular and endothelial components of the ductus arteriosus degenerate, leaving only the connective tissue component of the ligamentum arteriosum.
  • The ductus venosus    is a temporary blood vessel that branches from the umbilical vein, allowing much of the freshly oxygenated blood from the placenta—the organ of gas exchange between the mother and fetus—to bypass the fetal liver and go directly to the fetal heart. The ductus venosus closes slowly during the first weeks of infancy and degenerates to become the ligamentum venosum.

Fetal shunts

This figure shows the blood vessels in a fetus.
The foramen ovale in the interatrial septum allows blood to flow from the right atrium to the left atrium. The ductus arteriosus is a temporary vessel, connecting the aorta to the pulmonary trunk. The ductus venosus links the umbilical vein to the inferior vena cava largely through the liver.

Chapter review

Blood vessels begin to form from the embryonic mesoderm. The precursor hemangioblasts differentiate into angioblasts, which give rise to the blood vessels and pluripotent stem cells that differentiate into the formed elements of the blood. Together, these cells form blood islands scattered throughout the embryo. Extensions known as vascular tubes eventually connect the vascular network. As the embryo grows within the mother’s womb, the placenta develops to supply blood rich in oxygen and nutrients via the umbilical vein and to remove wastes in oxygen-depleted blood via the umbilical arteries. Three major shunts found in the fetus are the foramen ovale and ductus arteriosus, which divert blood from the pulmonary to the systemic circuit, and the ductus venosus, which carries freshly oxygenated blood high in nutrients to the fetal heart.

Questions & Answers

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kajal Reply
Pituitary gland
pituitary gland because it give harmonies and control other gland
glands often secrete hormones which play an important role in maintaining homeostasis.
pituitary gland
pituitary gland is master gland because it present in biran and secrtehormones and play other gland of human body and function its gland so that also called master gland.
pituitary glandis the master gland of our body
how do you study for A&P? lab and lecture?
Aubrey Reply
When one is suffering from motion sickness what area of the brain may trigger emesis?
amy Reply
that is the sign of stroke. if the patient have a stroke. the left side of body is weakness, the affected right of cerebrum but if right side of the body is weakness surely in left side!
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Fatima Reply
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any one elaborate fr me foramens of the skull and features which they transmit
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zahruuzh Reply
try to read I hop you will understand
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what are chemicals in anatomy and physiology?
Mike Reply
what can I do to find it easy for me in anatomy and physiology course
study up on the basics of the periodic chart, learn bones and muscles attachments, and learn muscles. Those take the longest to memorize. After that it should be a little easier.
what are the two types of body cells
Jennifer Reply
what is malnutrition
malnutrition refers to faulty nutrition resulting from malabsorption,poor diet or overeating. Sometimes too these food do not contain all the six food nutrients in their right proportion.
thank you
Will u be malnourished?
What's the difference between radiology and radiology
Nothing! Radiology it means the study or using of radiation in medical science it can be 1.diagnose or treatment diagnosed radiology! x- ray. ultrasound. ct-scan. mammogram. MRI. 2. treatmen- radiation oncology, like Cobalt 60. and nuclear medicine
what is X-ray?
X-ray is type of light that make it possible to see inside any object. as human body
How the nervous system develops
ayiesher Reply
From the cells at the back of an embryo
breifly explain anatomy of thorax
Hadiza Reply
How many region the rib is divided
how many bon of human being
how to study for the skeletal system
and anatomy
I really need sources immediately
I printed out all the different bones. Put them in the see through protective sheaths and got dry erase markers. I could right on them and erase to help me learn to spell the names of markings and bones.
Or go to a book store, Barnes and Noble(doesn't have to be this) and they have coloring books for anatomy. $16. Really helpful.
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*what are
I prefer diagrams, pictures that lay out each step with the information in each step. For Example: how action potential creates muscles to move. A pictured diagram gives me a better understanding of how each piece plays a role in each step of the process.
Also for basics, such as memorizing vocab. Flash cards are great. Don't become discouraged if you don't get them all right the first times through. The more you go through them, your brain will remember pieces of information from each and help you to pull out the information 😉
okay thanks
what is the functions of the lips in human
Momboi Reply
could I say sensation?
for protection
Lips assist in speech and eating
Too many easy questions. Which bones are the axial and appendicular? What are the abbreviations for TEE, TTE, AED, A-Mode, B-Mode, and LTH? What is the difference between hypothalamus and thalamus? Where is the parathyroid located? How many True Ribs do we have?
Sovilace Reply
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what is anatomy
okello Reply
anatomy is scientific study of body structures and how they relate to each other
Are there other functions of the nucleolus apart from synthesis of RNA and formation of ribosomes
Peninah Reply
plays a role in cell response to stress
what is angle of auscultation
Bryan Reply

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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