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Clin Anat. 2013 Mar;26(2):173-82. doi: 10.1002/ca.22101. Epub 2012 May 23.

Clarification of the identity of the mammalian fifth pharyngeal arch artery.

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Institute of Genetic Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.


The remodeling of the pharyngeal arch arteries is a complex process that occurs across vertebrates, although the specific number of arteries varies across species, with six in fish, but only five in birds and mammals, although they are numbered one through four, and six. The existence of a fifth arch artery in mammals has been debated for more than a century. Although some have doubted, and continue to doubt, its existence, several cardiovascular malformations can be explained only on the basis of its presence. We have analyzed the developing pharyngeal arch arteries in mouse and human embryos, using high-resolution episcopic microscopy. We have then created three-dimensional models, allowing us to identify any structures that would satisfy the descriptions of fifth arch arteries. This detailed examination revealed collateral channels connecting the fourth and sixth pharyngeal arch arteries in approximately half of the mouse embryos examined. Such collateral channels were seen in only one human embryo of eight examined by high-resolution episcopic microscopy, although we had previously identified such collateral channels using wax plate reconstruction. An extra vessel, occupying a discrete component of the pharyngeal mesenchyme, and therefore resembling a true fifth pharyngeal arch artery, was observed in one Carnegie Stage 14 human embryo. The pharyngeal mesenchyme in the human, therefore, can contain a fifth arch, with a contained artery, albeit transiently. Persistence of this structure, and the observed collateral channels, provides mechanisms to explain the congenital cardiovascular malformations described as persistent fifth aortic arch, and double-barreled aorta.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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