Laterality defects in conjoined twins: Implications for normal asymmetry in human embryogenesis
We evaluated six pairs of conjoined twins: four pairs were dicephalus, and two were of the ischiopagus type. In three of the four dicephalus pairs, the right twin had an abnormality of laterality that included a right aortic arch, reversed great vessel orientation, bilateral right-sided isomerism of the lungs, asplenia, and situs inversus of the viscera. The left twin had normal great vessel orientation and situs solitus in each case. The finding that was unique in these three dicephalus twin pairs was their fused hearts, which were similar in orientation and configuration. The fourth dicephalus twin pair had one normally rotated heart, which was located in the midline and had normally placed chambers and great vessels. Each twin of this pair had normal visceral situs. In the two pairs of ischiopagus twins, each pair had two separate hearts, with normal cardiac structure and great vessel relationships. The viscera expressed normal laterality. Documentation of a defect in laterality in the right twin in three conjoined twin pairs with fusion of the hearts, combined with the presence of normal laterality in three pairs without cardiac fusion, has implications regarding the mechanisms leading to laterality of the human embryo. We suggest that rotation of the heart initiates the embryo's process of lateralization and that the laterality defects of the viscera seen in the right twin are a result of their abnormal cardiac rotation.