The ultrastructural morphology of the cellular and extracellular components of the developing myocardial capillary wall - from the 16-day-gestation fetus of the rat to the 21-day neonate - was examined. A morphometric analysis of plasmalemmal vesicles and of coated vesicles and pits of capillary endothelial cells was performed during the same developmental period. As the lateral extensions of the capillary endothelial cells change from irregular to regular in their thickness during development, there is an increase in the number of plasmalemmal vesicles and a progression from clusters of plasmalemmal vesicles to a uniform distribution in the endothelial cell. The ratio of vesicles which are open to the luminal front, which are 'free' in the cytoplasm, or which are open to the abluminal front of the endothelial cell was consistent throughout development. The numerical density of plasmalemmal vesicles demonstrates a gradual and significant increase. In contrast, the numbers of coated vesicles and pits are variable within a very narrow range, and no pattern of increase or decrease is discernible during development. Similarly, there is no change in interendothelial cell junctions, which consist of occluding and primitive adhesive junctional types, during development. The lamina densa of the basal lamina gradually develops from discontinuous, patchy densities along the abluminal surface of the endothelial cells to a continuous and distinct layer by 21 days gestation. The presence of the proteoglycan species in the developing basal lamina was assessed with the cationic dye ruthenium red (RR), and the appearance of RR-marked proteoglycans was found to parallel the appearance of lamina densa material. The RR sites appear discontinuously in patches; and later, the RR sites appear in a continuous and regular planar lattice in the lamina rara interna and externa at 21 days gestation. A complete array of RR-stainable anionic sites outside a continuous lamina densa near birth indicates that the basal laminae of developing capillaries in the heart are morphologically, and in part biochemically, mature by the end of the first neonatal week. Our results show that the endothelial cells and the subtending basal lamina of myocardial capillaries gradually mature morphologically during the final days of gestation and the first neonatal week. The finding of tight junctions and small areas of vesicle concentration in fetal endothelial cells could indicate that sites of permeability are limited early in myocardial capillary development and that these vesicular sites increase as gestation proceeds and as the myocardial capillaries mature.
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