Exercises in anatomy: holes between the ventricles

Robert H. Anderson, Anne E. Sarwark, Diane E. Spicer, Carl L. Backer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Holes between the ventricles are the commonest congenital cardiac malformations. As yet, however, there is no consensus as to how they can best be described and categorized. In this, our third exercise in cardiac anatomy, we address the issue of classification of ventricular septal defects. We begin our demonstration by analysing the normal heart. We show that the larger part of the ventricular septum is made up of its muscular component. The membranous part accounts for only a small portion, which is located centrally within the cardiac base. This small membranous part forms a boundary between the right-sided chambers and the aortic root. Holes at this site, therefore, which account for the commonest defects closed surgically, will open centrally in the cardiac base, being located postero-inferiorly relative to the supraventricular crest. We then show that the larger part of the crest itself is a free-standing muscular sleeve, which lifts the leaflets of the pulmonary valve away from the cardiac base. Only a very small part of the muscle forming the right ventricular outlet is located in the septal position. Turning our attention to malformed hearts, we show how holes between the ventricles can open centrally at the cardiac base, open to the inlet or outlet of the right ventricle or open within the substance of the apical muscular septum. We demonstrate, however, that description of such geographical location of the defects does not paint the full picture, since lesions with markedly different phenotypic features can open in comparable geographic locations. We illustrate how it is the phenotypic features, as seen from the right ventricle, which convey the crucial information for the surgeon with regard to the location of the atrioventricular conduction axis, using hearts with holes opening to the inlet of the right ventricle with muscular as opposed to partially fibrous borders to emphasize this point. We continue by showing how holes with different phenotypes can also open to the outlet of the right ventricle, the key feature in this regard being malalignment between the apical muscular septum relative to the muscular outlet septum or its fibrous remnant. Malalignment can also be found between the apical ventricular septum and the atrial septum, this being shown in a defect opening to the inlet of the right ventricle. We conclude by emphasizing that, so as to bring together all the information of surgical significance, it is necessary to take note of the geographical location of holes between the ventricles, their phenotypic features and the presence or absence of malalignment between the septal components.


  • Doubly committed ventricular septal defect
  • Interventricular communications
  • Malalignment
  • Perimembranous ventricular septal defect
  • Ventricular septal defect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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