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Arteries of the brain

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Identify the main arteries of the brain and their branches. 
  2. Appreciate the origin and course of each artery of the brain. 
  3. Learn about the arterial blood supply of each area of the brain.

Watch videos

The arterial supply of the brain is derived from two primary sources: the internal carotid and vertebral arteries. The internal carotid arteries and their branches supply blood to the majority of the forebrain which is why they're often classified as the anterior cerebral circulation or the internal carotid system. The vertebral arteries and their major branches supply blood to the spinal cord, the brainstem and cerebellum, and a significant part of the posterior cerebral hemispheres (usually occipital and inferior temporal lobes). The vertebral arteries and their branches are commonly referred to as the vertebrobasilar system or the posterior cerebral circulation.

The cerebral arterial circle (of Willis) is an anatomical structure that provides an anastomotic connection between the anterior and posterior circulations, providing collateral flow to affected brain regions in the event of arterial incompetency.

The following videos will provide you with a comprehensive overview of cerebral circulation. The first video will focus on the arteries seen from the inferior perspective, including the circle of Willis. The second video will then focus on the arteries seen on the medial and lateral views of the brain.

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Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the arteries of the brain from an inferior, medial and lateral view. 

Summary

Key facts about the arteries of the brain
Anterior circulation Main arteries: Internal carotid artery, anterior cerebral artery, anterior communicating artery and middle cerebral artery
Supply
: Forebrain
Posterior circulation Main arteries: Vertebral artery, basilar artery, posterior cerebral artery and posterior communicating artery
Supply
: Posterior cortex (occipital lobe and partly temporal lobe), midbrain, brainstem
Circle of Wilis From anterior to posterior:
Anterior communicating artery (from the anterior cerebral artery)
Anterior cerebral arteries (from the internal carotid artery)
Internal carotid arteries (from the common carotid artery)
Posterior communicating arteries (from the posterior cerebral artery)
Posterior cerebral arteries (branch of the basilar artery)
Supply Anterior cerebral artery: Frontal, parietal and cingulate cortex; corpus callosum, region of the brain primarily responsible for motor and sensory of the lower limbs

Middle cerebral artery
: Most of the lateral surface of the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes (except for the superior border of the former two and inferior border of the latter), basal ganglia and internal capsule

Posterior cerebral artery
: Occipital lobe, inferolateral surface of the temporal lobe, midbrain, thalamus, choroid plexus (third and lateral ventricle), cerebral peduncles

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