Superficial Brachial Artery: Its Embryological and Clinical Significance


Dr M Khullar, Dr Meenakshi Khullar    02 December 2017

Case report

During the routine undergraduate dissections on the upper limbs of a 50-yearold female cadaver, it was observed that on both the sides, the third part of the AA after giving the subscapular artery bifurcated into a SBA and a deep brachial artery. The SBA descended superficial to the lateral root of the median nerve; did not give any branch in the arm and continued as the brachial artery proper. Finally, on reaching the cubital fossa it terminated by dividing into radial and ulnar arteries. The deep brachial artery passed deep to the medial root of the median nerve and gave anterior and posterior circumflex humeral branches of AA and profunda brachii branch of brachial artery. Then it terminated by giving twigs to the muscles of arm (Fig. 1).

M Khullar

Assistant ProfessorDept. of AnatomyGuru Gobind Singh Medical CollegeFaridkot, Punjab

Meenakshi Khullar

Assistant ProfessorDept. of AnatomyGuru Gobind Singh Medical CollegeFaridkot, Punjab


Variations in the arterial pattern of the upper limb are common and have been reported by several investigators.1 The presence of a SBA and the usual pattern of its branching in the upper arm or forearm have also been reported.4-6 The definition of the SBA was set for the first time by Adachi in 1928 and runs as follows: “The SBA is the one that runs superficial to the median nerve.”7 It may replace the main trunk or may be accompanied by an equally important, less important or more important trunk running deep to median nerve. Table 1 shows the prevalence of SBA as observed by different authors from time-to-time.


The embryological background of these variations in the vasculature of the upper limb may be explained as abnormal deviations in the normal vascular patterns. Arey and Jurjus mentioned six explanations for the variations observed:8,9

  1. The choice of unusual paths in the primitive vascular plexus
  2. The persistence of vessels which are normally obliterated
  3. The disappearance of vessels which are normally retained
  4. An incomplete development
  5. The fusion and absorption of parts which are normally distinct
  6. A combination of factors leading to an atypical pattern normally encountered.
  7. Ontogenic basis of the present case can be easily made out if we look at Singer’s
  8. five stages of development of the brachial artery (Fig. 2):10

Stage I: Originally the subclavian artery extends to the wrist, where it terminates by dividing into terminal branches for the fingers. The distal portion of the artery becomes the interosseous artery of the adult.

Stage II: The median artery arises from the interosseous artery and becomes larger while interosseous artery subsequently undergoes retrogression. During this process, the median artery fuses with the lower portion of interosseous artery and ultimately forms the main channel for the digital branches becoming the principle artery of the forearm.

Stage III: In embryos of 18 mm, the ulnar artery arises from brachial artery and unites distally with the median artery to form superficial palmar arch.Digital branches arise from this arch.

Stage IV: In embryo of 21 mm length, the SBA develops in the axillary region and traverses the medial surface of the arm and runs diagonally from the ulnar to the radial side of the forearm to the posterior surface of the wrist. There it divides over the carpus into branches for the dorsum of the thumb and index finger.

Stage V: Finally three changes occur. When the embryo reaches the length of 23 mm the median artery undergoes retrogression becoming a small slender structure, now known as ‘arteria nervi mediani’. The SBA gives off a distal branch, which anastomoses with the superficial palmar arch already present. At the elbow an anastomotic branch between brachial artery and SBA becomes enlarged sufficiently to form with the distal portion of the latter, the radial artery, as a major artery of the forearm; the proximal portion of the SBA atrophies correspondingly.10 In the present case, it seems that in Stage III of Singer, ulnar artery came from brachial artery as usual.10 SBA continued as radial artery and anastomosis between SBA and brachial artery developed normally (See Fig. 3). However, brachial artery between origin of SBA and ulnar artery (‘A’ in Fig. 3) retrogressed and lost its communication with common interosseous artery. The SBA failed to retrogress and continued to supply radial artery. The anastomosis between SBA and brachial artery (‘B’ in Fig. 3), which usually forms proximal part of radial artery now formed proximal part of ulnar artery, thus giving appearance that ulnar artery and radial artery are terminal branches of SBA and common interosseous artery (‘C’ in Fig. 3) came as a branch of ulnar artery.

Clinical Significance

Gonzalez-Compta highlighted the diagnostic, interventional and surgical significance of such a vascular variation.11 Diagnostically, it may disturb the evaluation of angiographic images. Interventionally, accidental puncture of superficially placed arteries may occur while attempting venipuncture. Surgically, it is vulnerable in both orthopedic and plastic surgery operations.

Hence, the anatomic knowledge of the vascular patterns of upper limb is of crucial importance not only for neurosurgeons, but for all those involved in radiodiagnostics, particularly in cases involving traumatic injuries, as improved knowledge would allow more accurate diagnostic interpretation and surgical treatment.


  1. Rodríguez-Baeza A, Nebot J, Ferreira B, Reina F, Pérez J, Sañudo JR, et al. An anatomical study and ontogenetic explanation of 23 cases with variations in the main pattern of the human brachio-antebrachial arteries. J Anat 1995;187(Pt 2):473-9.
  2. Aharinejad S, Nourani F, Hollensteiner H. Rare case of high origin of the ulnar artery from the brachial artery. Clin Anat 1997;10(4):253-8.
  3. Jurjus A, Sfeir R, Bezirdjian R. Unusual variation of the arterial pattern of the human upper limb. Anat Rec 1986;215(1):82-3.
  4. Skopakoff C. Variability of branches and distribution of the superficial brachial artery. Anat Anz 1959;106 (17-20):356-68.
  5. Fuss FK, Matula CW, Tschabitscher M. The superficial brachial artery. Anat Anz1985;160(4):285-94.
  6. McCormack LJ, Cauldwell EW, Anson BJ. Brachial and antebrachial arterial patterns; a study of 750 extremities. Surg Gynecol Obstet 1953;96(1):43-54.
  7. Adachi B. Arterensystem des japaner. Kyoto 1928;1:205-10. 8. Arey LB. Development anatomy. In: Development of Arteries. 6th edition, WB Sounders Copmany: Philadelphia 1957:p.375-7.
  8. Jurjus AR, Correa-De-Aruaujo R, Bohn RC. Bilateral double axillary artery: embryological basis and clinical implications. Clin Anat 1999;12(2):135-40.
  9. Singer E. Embryological pattern persisting in the arteries of the arm. Anat Rec 1933;55(4):403-9.
  10. Gonzalez-Compta X. Origin of the radial artery from the axillary artery and associated hand vascular anomalies. J Hand Surg Am 1991;16(2):293-6.
  11. Quain R. Anatomy of the arteries of the human body. Taylor & Wolton: London 1844:p.326-37.
  12. Gruber W. Zur Anatomie der Arteria radialis. Arch Anat Physiol Wissen Med 1864:p.434-55.
  13. Muller E. Beitrage zur Morphologie des Gefässytstems. I. Die Armarterien des Menschen. Anat Hefte 1903;22:377-575.
  14. Miller RA. Observations upon the arrangement of the axillary artery and brachial plexus. Am J Anat 1939;64(1):143-63.
  15. Rao PV, Chaudhary SC. Superficial brachial artery terminating as radial and superficial ulnar arteries: a case report. Centr Afr J Med 2001; 47(3):78-80.
  16. Rodríguez-Niedenführ M, Vázquez T, Nearn L, Ferreira B, Parkin I, Sañudo JR. Variations of the arterial pattern in the upper limb revisited: a morphological and statistical study, with a review of the literature. J Anat 2001;199(Pt 5):547-66.
  17. Patnaik VVG, Kalsey G, Singla RK. Branching pattern of brachial artery: a morphological study. J Anat Soc Ind 2002;51(2):176-86.
  18. Kachlik D, Konarik M, Baca V. Vascular patterns of upper limb: an anatomical study with accent on superficial brachial artery. Bosn J Basic Med Sci 2011;11(1):4-10.

To comment on this article,
create a free account.

Sign Up to instantly get access to 10000+ Articles & 1000+ Cases

Already registered?

Login Now

Most Popular Articles

News and Updates

eMediNexus provides latest updates on medical news, medical case studies from India. In-depth medical case studies and research designed for doctors and healthcare professionals.