In animals with functional division of blood systemic and pulmonary pressures, such as mammals, birds, crocodilians and a few exceptions among non-crocodilian reptiles, the vessel walls of systemic and pulmonary arteries are exquisitely adapted to endure different pressures during the cardiac cycle, systemic arteries being stronger and stiffer than pulmonary arteries. However, the typical non-crocodilian reptile heart possesses an undivided ventricle that provides similar systolic blood pressures to both circuits. This raises the question whether in these species the systemic and pulmonary mechanical vascular properties are similar. Snakes also display large organ plasticity and increased cardiac output in response to digestion, and we speculate how the vascular circuit would respond to this further stress. We addressed these questions by testing the mechanical vascular properties of the dorsal aorta and the right pulmonary artery of fasted and fed yellow anacondas, Eunectes notaeus, a snake without functional ventricular separation that also exhibits large metabolic and cardiovascular responses to digestion. Similar to previous studies, the dorsal aorta was thicker, stronger, stiffer and more elastic than the pulmonary artery. However, unlike any other species studied so far, the vascular distensibility (i.e. the relative volume change given a pressure change) was similar for both circuits. Most striking, the pulmonary artery elasticity (i.e. its capacity to resume its original form after being stretched) and distensibility increased during digestion, which suggests that this circuit is remodeled to accommodate the larger stroke volume and enhance the Windkessel effect, thus providing a more constant blood perfusion during digestion.
Renato Filogonio, Tobias Wang, and Carl Christian Danielsen