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Folia Primatol (Basel). 1991;57(4):181-90.

Character phylogeny of the primate forelimb superficial venous system.

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Department of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine, University of Jaffna, Kokuvil, Sri Lanka.


The ontogeny and comparative anatomy of the forelimb superficial veins were investigated in humans, non-human primates and other mammals. Adult humans and the orangutan (Pongo) possess two autonomous forelimb veins, one on the lateral (preaxial) margin of the limb, the other on the medial (postaxial) margin. All other adult primates and mammals examined possess a lateral vein alone. In African apes (Pan and Gorilla) and in 24% of human forelimbs the lateral vein is short, being essentially confined to the antebrachial region, whereas in other mammals and in 76% of human limbs the lateral vein runs from the carpus to the clavicular region. In humans the medial vein develops before the lateral vein, whereas in the rabbit and the pig the medial vein is present in early embryos but is subsequently lost. We propose that in humans, and probably also in the orangutan, the possession of a medial vein is a neotenic retention of a primitive tetrapod condition. These animals, which retain their medial vein, are united by losing a late stage in their ontogeny. Other animals subsequently pass through a stage in which the medial vein is lost, but Pongo and Homo retain this vein to adulthood. The loss of an ontogenetic stage can arise independently, and the presence of a medial vein therefore affords only weak evidence for a close phylogenetic relationship between humans and the orangutan. The polymorphic lateral vein of humans may be a character state that is intermediate between the derived (short) lateral vein of the African apes and the primitive long lateral vein of other non-human primates and mammals.

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