The left-sided aortic arch in humans, viewed as the end-result of natural selection during vertebrate evolution

Alexander J. Muster*, Rachid F. Idriss, Carl L Backer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


At some point during vertebrate evolution from species dwelling in water to living on land, the ancestral double or right aortic arches became single and left-sided in mammals, including humans, as the result of synchronous developments in cardiovascular and respiratory embryogenesis. Since left-sided aortic arches are unique to mammals, hemodynamics related to the placenta, specifically the requirement for a large arterial duct connecting to the descending aorta, may have led to switching from the right-sided to the left-sided arch. Additionally, development of a trilobar right lung and its bronchial tree, also unique to mammalian evolution, restricted the space above the high eparterial bronchus to a single large vessel. Consequently, mammals that mutated to the left-sided aortic arch avoided respiratory, digestive or circulatory problems that are often associated with an isolated right-sided aortic arch - something which could be considered a successful mistake. Due to natural selection, and survival of the fittest, the left-sided arch became the norm in mammals. In congenital cardiac malformations where a large arterial duct is not mandatory in fetal life, as in Fallot's tetralogy or common arterial trunk, a right-sided aortic arch continues to occur, perhaps as an atavistic reversion to the anatomy seen in ancestral vertebrates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)111-122
Number of pages12
JournalCardiology in the young
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2001


  • Aortic arches
  • Comparative anatomy of vertebrate aortic arches
  • Evolution of vertebrate cardiovascular system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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