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J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2011 Apr;141(4):1020-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2010.06.023.

The collateral network concept: a reassessment of the anatomy of spinal cord perfusion.

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Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY 10029, USA.



Prevention of paraplegia after repair of thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm requires understanding the anatomy and physiology of the spinal cord blood supply. Recent laboratory studies and clinical observations suggest that a robust collateral network must exist to explain preservation of spinal cord perfusion when segmental vessels are interrupted. An anatomic study was undertaken.


Twelve juvenile Yorkshire pigs underwent aortic cannulation and infusion of a low-viscosity acrylic resin at physiologic pressures. After curing of the resin and digestion of all organic tissue, the anatomy of the blood supply to the spinal cord was studied grossly and with light and electron microscopy.


All vascular structures at least 8 μm in diameter were preserved. Thoracic and lumbar segmental arteries give rise not only to the anterior spinal artery but to an extensive paraspinous network feeding the erector spinae, iliopsoas, and associated muscles. The anterior spinal artery, mean diameter 134 ± 20 μm, is connected at multiple points to repetitive circular epidural arteries with mean diameters of 150 ± 26 μm. The capacity of the paraspinous muscular network is 25-fold the capacity of the circular epidural arterial network and anterior spinal artery combined. Extensive arterial collateralization is apparent between the intraspinal and paraspinous networks, and within each network. Only 75% of all segmental arteries provide direct anterior spinal artery-supplying branches.


The anterior spinal artery is only one component of an extensive paraspinous and intraspinal collateral vascular network. This network provides an anatomic explanation of the physiological resiliency of spinal cord perfusion when segmental arteries are sacrificed during thoracoabdominal aortic aneurysm repair.

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