The cardiac conduction system (CCS) is a specialized tissue network that initiates and maintains a rhythmic heartbeat. The CCS consists of several functional subcomponents responsible for producing a pacemaking impulse and distributing action potentials across the heart in a coordinated manner. The formation of the distinct subcomponents of the CCS occurs within a precise temporal and spatial framework; thereby assuring that as the system matures from a tubular to a complex chambered organ, a rhythmic heartbeat is always maintained. Therefore, a defect in differentiation of any CCS component would lead to severe rhythm disturbances. Recent molecular, cell biological and physiological approaches have provided fresh and unexpected perspectives of the relationships between cell fate, gene expression and differentiation of specialized function within the developing myocardium. In particular, biomechanical forces created by the heartbeat itself have important roles in the inductive patterning and functional integration of the developing conduction system. This new understanding of the cellular origin and molecular induction of CCS tissues during embryogenesis may provide the foundation for tissue engineering, replacement and repair of these essential cardiac tissues in the future. © 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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