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J Anat. 2001 Oct; 199(Pt 4): 407–417.
PMCID: PMC1468351

Development of the arterial pattern in the upper limb of staged human embryos: normal development and anatomic variations


A total of 112 human embryos (224 upper limbs) between stages 12 and 23 of development were examined. It was observed that formation of the arterial system in the upper limb takes place as a dual process. An initial capillary plexus appears from the dorsal aorta during stage 12 and develops at the same rate as the limb. At stage 13, the capillary plexus begins a maturation process involving the enlargement and differentiation of selected parts. This remodelling process starts in the aorta and continues in a proximal to distal sequence. By stage 15 the differentiation has reached the subclavian and axillary arteries, by stage 17 it has reached the brachial artery as far as the elbow, by stage 18 it has reached the forearm arteries except for the distal part of the radial, and finally by stage 21 the whole arterial pattern is present in its definitive morphology. This differentiation process parallels the development of the skeletal system chronologically. A number of arterial variations were observed, and classified as follows: superficial brachial (7.7%), accessory brachial (0.6%), brachioradial (14%), superficial brachioulnar (4.7%), superficial brachioulnoradial (0.7%), palmar pattern of the median (18.7%) and superficial brachiomedian (0.7%) arteries. They were observed in embryos belonging to stages 17–23 and were not related to a specific stage of development. Statistical comparison with the rates of variations reported in adults did not show significant differences. It is suggested that the variations arise through the persistence, enlargement and differentiation of parts of the initial network which would normally remain as capillaries or even regress.

Keywords: Arterial development, embryology, arm, forearm

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Selected References

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