Prolonged submergence imposes special demands on the cardiovascular system. Unlike the situation in diving birds and mammals, crocodilians have the ability to shunt blood away from the lungs, despite having an anatomically divided ventricle. This remarkable cardiovascular flexibility is due in part to three anatomical peculiarities: (1) an 'extra' aorta (the left aorta) that leaves the right ventricle and allows the blood from the right ventricle to take an alternative route into the systemic circulation instead of going to the lungs; (2) the foramen of Panizza, an aperture that connects the right and left aortas at their base immediately outside the ventricle; and (3) a set of connective tissue outpushings in the pulmonary outflow tract in the right ventricle. Using high-resolution angioscopy, we have studied these structures in the beating crocodile heart and correlated their movements with in vivo pressure and flow recordings. The connective tissue outpushings in the pulmonary outflow tract represent an active mechanism used to restrict blood flow into the lungs, thus creating one of the conditions required for a right-to-left shunt. We observed that the foramen of Panizza was obstructed by the medial cusp of the right aortic valve during most of systole, effectively differentiating the left and right aortic blood pressure. During diastole, however, the foramen remained open, allowing pressure equilibration between the two aortas. Contrary to current theories, we found that the left aortic valves were unable to cover the foramen of Panizza during any part of the cardiac cycle, supporting the reversed foramen flow hypothesis. This would ensure a supply of blood to the coronary and cephalic circulation during a complete shut-down of the left side of the heart, such as might occur during prolonged submergence.

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