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J Anat. 2013 Dec;223(6):603-9. doi: 10.1111/joa.12113. Epub 2013 Sep 20.

The dermal arteries of the human thumb pad.

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Medical University of Vienna, Centre for Anatomy and Cell Biology, Vienna, Austria.


The arteries of the skin have been postulated to form a profound plexus at the dermal/hypodermal junction and a superficial plexus in the papillary dermis. Our article aims to rebut this concept and to provide an alternative description of the arrangement of the dermal arteries. Employing a novel technique, we produced digital volume data (volume size: 2739 × 2054 × 3000 μm(3) ; voxel size: 1.07 × 1.07 × 2 μm(3) ) from biopsies of the skin of the thumb pads of 15 body donors. Utilizing these data, we analysed the arrangement of the dermal arteries with the aid of virtual re-sectioning tools, and, in three specimens, with high-quality three-dimensional (3D) surface models. In all specimens we observed a tree-like ramification of discrete dermal arteries. The terminal branches of the arterial trees gave rise to the ascending segments of the capillary loops of the dermal papillae. None of the specimens showed a superficial arterial plexus. This suggests that the skin of the human thumb pad can be split in discrete 'arterial units'. Each unit represents the zone of the papillary dermis and epidermal/dermal junction, to which blood is supplied exclusively by the branches of a single dermal artery. The concept of dermal arterial units is in contrast to all existing descriptions of the architecture of the dermal arteries. However, whether it can be transferred to the skin of other body parts, remains to be tested. Likewise, the consequences of arterial units for understanding the mechanisms of wound healing and the appearance and genesis of skin diseases remain to be examined.


blood supply; high resolution episcopic microscopy; skin; superficial arterial plexus; three-dimensional reconstruction

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