OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
There are three major branches of the aortic arch: the brachiocephalic artery, the left common carotid artery, and the left subclavian (literally “under the clavicle”) artery. As you would expect based upon proximity to the heart, each of these vessels is classified as an elastic artery.
The brachiocephalic artery is located only on the right side of the body; there is no corresponding artery on the left. The brachiocephalic artery branches into the right subclavian artery and the right common carotid artery. The left subclavian and left common carotid arteries arise independently from the aortic arch but otherwise follow a similar pattern and distribution to the corresponding arteries on the right side.
Each subclavian artery supplies blood to the arms, chest, shoulders, back, and central nervous system. It then gives rise to three major branches: the internal thoracic artery, the vertebral artery, and the thyrocervical artery. The internal thoracic artery, or mammary artery, supplies blood to the thymus, the pericardium of the heart, and the anterior chest wall. The vertebral artery passes through the vertebral foramen in the cervical vertebrae and then through the foramen magnum into the cranial cavity to supply blood to the brain and spinal cord. The paired vertebral arteries join together to form the large basilar artery at the base of the medulla oblongata. This is an example of an anastomosis. The subclavian artery also gives rise to the thyrocervical artery that provides blood to the thyroid, the cervical region of the neck, and the upper back and shoulder.
The common carotid artery divides into internal and external carotid arteries. The right common carotid artery arises from the brachiocephalic artery and the left common carotid artery arises directly from the aortic arch. The external carotid artery supplies blood to numerous structures within the face, lower jaw, neck, esophagus, and larynx. These branches include the lingual, facial, occipital, maxillary, and superficial temporal arteries. The internal carotid artery initially forms an expansion known as the carotid sinus, containing the carotid baroreceptors and chemoreceptors. Like their counterparts in the aortic sinuses, the information provided by these receptors is critical to maintaining cardiovascular homeostasis.
The internal carotid arteries along with the vertebral arteries are the two primary suppliers of blood to the human brain. Given the central role and vital importance of the brain to life, it is critical that blood supply to this organ remains uninterrupted. Recall that blood flow to the brain is remarkably constant, with approximately 20 percent of blood flow directed to this organ at any given time. When blood flow is interrupted, even for just a few seconds, a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, may occur, resulting in loss of consciousness or temporary loss of neurological function. In some cases, the damage may be permanent. Loss of blood flow for longer periods, typically between 3 and 4 minutes, will likely produce irreversible brain damage or a stroke, also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). The locations of the arteries in the brain not only provide blood flow to the brain tissue but also prevent interruption in the flow of blood. Both the carotid and vertebral arteries branch once they enter the cranial cavity, and some of these branches form a structure known as the arterial circle (or circle of Willis), an anastomosis that is remarkably like a traffic circle that sends off branches (in this case, arterial branches to the brain). As a rule, branches to the anterior portion of the cerebrum are normally fed by the internal carotid arteries; the remainder of the brain receives blood flow from branches associated with the vertebral arteries.
The internal carotid artery continues through the carotid canal of the temporal bone and enters the base of the brain through the carotid foramen where it gives rise to several branches. One of these branches is the anterior cerebral artery that supplies blood to the frontal lobe of the cerebrum. Another branch, the middle cerebral artery, supplies blood to the temporal and parietal lobes, which are the most common sites of CVAs. The ophthalmic artery, the third major branch, provides blood to the eyes.
The right and left anterior cerebral arteries join together to form an anastomosis called the anterior communicating artery. The initial segments of the anterior cerebral arteries and the anterior communicating artery form the anterior portion of the arterial circle. The posterior portion of the arterial circle is formed by a left and a right posterior communicating artery that branches from the posterior cerebral artery, which arises from the basilar artery. It provides blood to the posterior portion of the cerebrum and brain stem. The basilar artery is an anastomosis that begins at the junction of the two vertebral arteries and sends branches to the cerebellum and brain stem. It flows into the posterior cerebral arteries.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology