Paper - The development of the human femoral artery, a correction

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Senior HD. The development of the human femoral artery, a correction. (1920) Amer. J Anat..

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This historic 1920 paper by Senior is a correction on his earlier 1919 paper. Senior HD. The development of the arteries of the human lower extremity. (1919) Amer. J Anat. 22:1-11.

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The Development of the Human Femoral Artery, A Correction

H. D. Senior

Department of Anatomy, New York University

Four Figures


A recent paper upon the development of the arteries of the human lower extremity contains a record of certain conclusions regarding the development of the femoral artery which have since proved to be founded upon an error of observation.‘

An examination of the literature relating to the arterial anomalies of the human thigh reveals the fact that only two general classes of variation of the adult femoral artery have been recorded. These are the imperfection of development which occurs in association with persistence of the embryonic a. ischiadica, and the anomaly of partial reduplication.

Partial reduplication of the femoral trunk occurs with relative frequency and has assumed a variety of forms which do not require particular notice here. It may be said, however, that none of the forms in question can legitimately be interpreted as having arisen through modification of the process of development which was described in the paper cited above. In recognition of the value of arterial anomalies as presenting a natural means of controlling the results of embryological study, the development of the femoral artery has been submitted to further examination.

The search for fresh material in suitable stages of development has involved the examination of a relatively large amount of material. For the use of the embryos so kindly placed at my disposal, I am greatly indebted to the kindness of Profs. B. F. Kingsbury, F. T. Lewis, and G. L. Streeter. Two embryos have been found, Carnegie Embryo no. 353 and Kingsbury Embryo no. 26, which clearly demonstrate the nature of the erroneous conception I originally entertained regarding the development of the femoral artery. They are in an excellent state of preservation and represent a stage of development which agrees, more or less closely, with that of the 12-mm. embryo (Minnesota H. 142). A description of the arteries of the right lower extremity of the latter embryo appeared in the paper previously cited.3 Figures 1 and 2 represent a reconstruction of the arterial apparatus of the right thigh of. Carnegie Embryo no. 353 and of Minnesota Embryo H. 14, respectively, as seen from the preaxial aspect. The nature of my former error will become evident upon making a comparison between them. Two more or less completely separate arterial channels, which are seen in figure 1 to pass from the a. iliaca externa into the thigh, break up into an extensive plexus of capillaries. The plexus, which is represented somewhat diagramatically, spreads throughout the tissues of the thigh, but is more dense in the periskeletal region than elsewhere. It becomes somewhat widely scattered and more loosely meshed as it passes distally and is lost in the region immediately beyond the knee. A large recurrent branch which arises from the axial artery 3. short distance proximally to the knee—joint divides into branches which soon become lost among the other elements of the plexus. The plexus shown in figure 1 is entirely absent from the reconstruction from which figure 2 was drawn. Apart from this omission, the arteries which appear in the latter figure seem to.have been accurately represented. Whether the difference in the arrangement of the terminal branches of the a. iliaca externa of the two figures is due to individual variation or depends upon a difference in the ages of the embryos represented, has not been determined. A review of the data, derived from these and other embryos, which have a bearing upon the question will be found on page 278. The drainage of the femoral plexus (fig. 1, rete femorale) is accomplished in two ways. A portion of the blood traversing its wide capillary channels passes into the distal part of the axial artery through the recurrent branch of the latter vessel, the remainder is drained by veins in the usual manner. The v. iliaca externa is placed upon the dorsal aspect of the corresponding artery and ends distally by bifurcating into the v. epigastrica inferior and a vein which passes toward the thigh. The latter vessel passes through the more proximal of the two intervals between the two femoral branches of the a. iliaca externa which are shown in the figure. After accompanying the femoral branches for a short distance, the vein passes directly to the surface and loses its identity among the elements of the superficial venous plexus of the region of the groin.

  • 1 Senior HD. The development of the arteries of the human lower extremity. (1919) Amer. J Anat. 22:1-11. pp. 67 and 88, also figs. 3 and 9C. (Unfortunately, the mistake has been repeated in connection with the anomaly of a.. saphena magna in An Interpretation of the Arterial Anomalies of the Human Leg and Foot, by the same author, Jour. Anat., Cambridge, vol. 53, p. 142).
  • 2 Through an unfortunate mistake, this embryo was referred to in the original paper as Minnesota Embryo H. 16.
  • 3 See page 67 and figures 3 and 9C. The latter figure is reproduced here as figure 2.

Fig. 1 The arteries and capillaries of the right thigh, Carnegie Embryo no. 353.

Fig. 2 A reproduction of figure 9C from The Development of the Arteries of the Human Lower Extremity. The femoral plexus shown in the preceding figure is omitted. The labeling is incorrect.

Fig. 3 The right and left external iliac arteries and their branches, Harvard Embryo no. 816.

Fig. 4 The right external iliac artery, Harvard Embryo no. 1006.

The figures represent the cephalic (embryonic preaxial, adult medial) aspect of reconstructions X 20 diams. The reconstruction used for figure 4 was made by the graphic method, the others by means of wax plates. The lengths of the embryos used are noted in the text.

The short vein just described is quite constant in its appearance. In the absence of more definite information regarding its future history, it may be referred to provisionally as the ‘groin vein.’ There can be little doubt, however, that it persists to form the sections of the vv. saphena magna and femoralis, respectively, which intervene between the superficial veins of the adult groin and the v. iliaca externa. The venous radicles which arise from the more distal region of the femoral plexus open into the veins of the surface of the thigh. Those arising from the more proximal region are drained by the groin vein and by a tributary of the proximal part of the v. iliaca externa. The latter vessel has been observed in the embryo used in the preparation of figure 1 only, and no further observations have been made as to the constancy of its appearance.

The distribution of the vessels of the thigh in the Kingsbury embryo seems to correspond in all essential details with that of the Carnegie embryo just described. Unfortunately, no embryo has been encountered which is intermediate in development between the stage represented by these two embryos and that in which the femoral artery is represented by a single continuous channel. It has become necessary, therefore, to endeavor to form a just estimate of the relation between the vascular apparatus of the thigh as shown in figure 1 and the trunk and earlier branches of the femoral artery as they appear at the stage of 14 mm.‘ At the latter stage of development the a. femoralis

  • The distribution of the arteries of the right thigh of Cornell Embryo no. 5, which measures 14 mm., is indicated in figures 4 and 9d of the paper previously cited. The vascular conditions in the thigh of that embryo are duplicated, in all essential respects, in a Carnegie Embryo of the same length (Category:Carnegie Embryo 940|no. 940]]).

presents itself in the form of a single trunk which gives separate origin to the a. circumflexa femoris lateralis and to the r. saphenus and r. musculoarticularis of the a. genu suprema. Three other branches arise from the medial side of the vessel which are not recognizable as corresponding to any of the branches of the adult femoral artery. They lead to an extensive capillary plexus which ramifies mainly in the periskeletal region of the thigh. This plexus, which no doubt furnishes the nutrient arteries of the femur in addition to supplying the developing musculature is eventually taken over by the a. profunda femoris. It is probable that the branches of the a. femoralis of the stage of 14 mm. and the capillary plexus in which they terminate together represent a further stage in the development of the portion of the femoral plexus which was originally drained by the venous system. It also seems probable that the proximal part of the adult femoral artery is formed either by the coalescence of the two femoral channels which pass from the a. iliaca externa to the femoral plexus (fig. 1) or through the persistence of one of them and the disappearance of the other. The short distal and larger intermediate parts of the artery seem to be derived, respectively, from the recurrent branch of the axial artery and from the portion of the femoral plexus which is drained by it. Besides forming a very short distal section of the adult a. femoralis, the recurrent branch of the a. axis provides the actual means of junction between the two major arteries of the embryonic limb. It is this vessel, therefore, and not one of the more proximal elements of the developing femoral artery, as I formerly supposed, which constitutes the true ramus communicans superius.

Through the courtesy of Prof. C. M. Jackson, I have had an opportunity of reexamining the conditions existing in the 12-mm. embryo used in the preparation of figure 2. In the light of experience gained from the study of other embryos, I find that the portions of the bifurcated femoral channel and of the r. communicans superius, which are filled with corpuscles, are the only vessels of the developing arterial system of the thigh which have been reconstructed. The other vessels are very difficult to identify in the specimen owing to the macerated condition of their lining endothelium. The elements of the femoral plexus appear in the sections as a number of indefinitely circumscribed spaces in which an occasional corpuscle can be found. I originally confused them with the other unlined spaces which are plentifully scattered throughout the partially macerated tissue.

It is clear from the conditions encountered in the embryo used in the preparation of figure 1 that the formation of the a. femoralis is preceded by the presence of a perfectly definite and reconstructable plexus of capillaries. This is connected proxi mally with the femoral branches of the a. iliaca externa, which forms part of an arteriovenous loop, and distally with the r. communicans superius, which has no companion vein. Such a plexus might well be regarded as having originated through the coalescence of two subsidiary plexuses, perhaps of unequal size, which had spread from the arterial branches at either end of the thigh. The evidence presented by younger embryos, however, does not admit of such an interpretation.

Figure 3 represents a reconstruction of the right and left external iliac arteries of Harvard Embryo no. 816. The three terminal branches, which are arranged somewhat differently upon the two sides, represent the inferior epigastric artery and two femoral channels. The reconstruction shown in figure 4 represents the right external iliac artery at a stage slightly earlier than that at which its branches appear. It is from Harvard Embryo no. 1006, which is 11.5 mm. in length. Neither the a. iliaca externa of this embryo nor the branches of that artery which appear in figure 3 are traceable into a definite femoral plexus. The vessels shown in both figures appear to end quite abruptly. It cannot be said, however, that the thigh of either embryo is entirely free from capillaries.

I have endeavored, with inconclusive results, to trace the genesis of the very clearly defined plexus which immediately precedes the appearance of the a. femoralis by an examination of several embryos measuring from 6 to 12 mm. It has been my experience that unmistakable evidence of the presence of a capillary plexus may be detected in the thigh and in all other parts of the lower limb in well-preserved embryos of any stage of development. The existence of a plexus in the earlier stages can be inferred from the occurrence of small groups of corpuscles which are scattered throughout the sections of uninjected material. I have been quite unable to determine the nature of the connection which presumably exists in the stage of development represented by figure 4, between the femoral plexus and the a. iliaca externa and the r. communicans superius, respectively. Some elements of the more distal part of the plexus seem, at the stage represented by figure 3, to be connected with the r. communicans superius. I have not been able to detect the existence of a definite connection, however, between the plexus of that stage and the rr. femorales of the a. iliaca externa.

The conditions met with in the stage represented by figure 1 differ very strikingly from those encountered in the earlier stages of development. The elements of the greater part of the plexus are almost as large as the rr. femorales, and their connections with the major arterialyand venous channels of the thigh can be easily traced. It is not diflicult to make a reconstruction from an embryo of this stage which furnishes, in all probability, a fairly accurate representation of the entire vascular apparatus of the thigh. I know of only one vascular plexus occurring in the developing lower extremity which at all resembles the widechanneled predecessor of the femoral artery and its branches. It is the arterial plexus which precedes the appearance of the a. dorsalis pedis, the r. plantaris profundus, the arcus plantaris, and the larger branches of those vessels. To denote the dorsal and plantar sections of the latter plexus, respectively, I have used the terms rete dorsale and plantare, respectively. The term ‘rete femorale’ may well, I think, be applied to the corresponding plexus of the thigh; figure 1 has been labeled accordingly.

I have avoided the application of the term plexus femoralis to the later phase of vascular plexus of the thigh because a careful examination of uninjected‘ material has yielded so little information regarding its relation to the femoral portion of the more intangible plexus of earlier stages of development. There is no reason to suppose that the process involved in the development of the femoral artery differs materially in the different orders of the mammalian series. If it should prove to be substantially similar in the embryo of any form of which a relatively large series of injections could be made, the earlier history of the socalled femoral rete could be investigated with a better prospect of success. The tentative use of the term ‘rete’ is suggested in the meanwhile without intending to cast doubt upon the intimacy of the relation between the femoral plexus of the earlier and later stages of development. The distinction of terms is used primarily on account of ‘failure to determine the nature of the relation which probably exists between them.

One feature of the developmental history of the femoral artery remains to be noted. It seems to find a reflection in the Variations of form which the femoral arterial channel has assumed in the recorded instances of the anomaly of partial bifurcation of the adult artery. The feature referred to is the difference in the arrangement of the terminal branches of the a. iliaca externa which has been observed in the embryos studied. The three branches of the left external iliac artery shown in figure 3 arise independently of one another. Upon the right side of the same embryo the a. epigastrica inferior arises independently, while the two femoral branches have a common stem of origin. The latter arrangement is repeated on the right side of the Kingsbury embryo and on both sides of the embryo used in the preparation of figure 2. In the embryo used for figure 1, one of the femoral branches arises independently from the a. iliaca externa, while the other arises in common with the a. epigastrica inferior.

Whether the terminal branching of the a. iliaca externa is subject to an inherent tendency toward variability or Whether the observed variation depends upon slight differences in the relative ages of the embryos examined, it is difficult to say. The Carnegie embryo (no. 353) used for figure 1 measured 11 mm. before cutting, it is obviously more advanced in development than the Harvard embryo (no. 816) used for figure 3 which measured 12 mm. The Kingsbury embryo (no. 26) measured 13 mm., although it appears to be in approximately the same stage of development as Carnegie no. 353. The Minnesota embryo is not sufliciently well preserved to permit of a very close comparison between the condition of its vascular system and that of the Carnegie and Kingsbury embryos. The more advanced development of its femur suggests, however, that it is somewhat older than either of the other two; it measured 12 mm. before cutting. That the measurement of an embryo, either before or after fixation, does not always provide an accurate indication of its relative stage of development is, of course, well known.

The portion of the a. profunda femoris which forms the common stem of origin of the aa. perforantes arises shortly before the stage of 22 mm. The a. circumflexa femoris medialis is distinguishable at the stage of 24.8 mm. (Carnegie Embryo no. 840).

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2024, June 23) Embryology Paper - The development of the human femoral artery, a correction. Retrieved from,_a_correction

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