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Arteries of the head: lateral view

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. List the main groups of arteries that supply the head, neck and face.
  2. Name the main arteries of each group and the structures supplied by them.

Watch video

The arteries of the head are responsible for the supply of oxygenated and nutrient rich blood to the structures of the face, neck and head, including the structures contained inside the cranial vault (i.e. brain and meninges).

These arteries can be divided didactically according to the branches of  three main arteries: 

  • External carotid artery
  • Internal carotid artery 
  • Vertebral artery

The main point in understanding the anatomy of these vessels is to note that each group provides blood to anatomical structures in different regions of the head and neck. The external carotid artery supplies most of the structures located outside the cranial vault, i.e. muscles, viscera and skin of the scalp, face and neck. The internal carotid artery is the most important artery for the anterolateral aspects of the brain, while the vertebral artery supplies most of the posterior structures of the brain, as well as some muscles and skin of the posterior neck.

The video below will help you understand that arterial distribution discussed above and introduce you to each of the branches of the external and internal carotid arteries, as well as the vertebral arteries.

Take a quiz

Were you able to memorize the arteries of the head from our video? Perhaps it is a good time to test yourself with our quiz on the arteries of the head.

If that quiz was too easy for you it might be the time to try a broader quiz on the head using our customizable quiz tool. You can always tweak that quiz to custom tailor the questions for your needs.

Browse atlas

Review the images in our gallery to solidify your knowledge:

External carotid artery and branches

Internal carotid artery and branches

Vertebral artery and branches


Key facts about the arteries of the head
External carotid artery Superior thyroid artery: Supplies thyroid gland and larynx
Ascending pharyngeal artery: Supplies prevertebral muscles, pharynx, middle ear and cranial meninges
Lingual artery:
Supplies intrinsic muscles of tongue and floor of oral cavity
Facial artery:
Supplies skin and multiple muscles of neck and face
Occipital artery:
Supplies the skin and muscles over posterior surface of the skull
Posterior auricular artery:
Supplies parotid gland, facial nerve, auricle of the ear and scalp behind the ear
Maxillary artery:
supplies skin of external acoustic meatus, structures of middle ear, bones of the skull and cranial meninges, trigeminal ganglion, facial muscles and skin, and structures of oral cavity and pharynx
Superficial temporal artery:
Supplies scalp in the temporal region
Internal carotid artery Meningohypophyseal trunk (C4): Supplies cranial meninges and pituitary gland
Ophthalmic artery (C6):
Supplies muscles and skin of forehead
Superior hypophyseal artery (C6):
Supplies optic nerve and chiasm, pituitary gland
Posterior communicating artery (C7):
Anastomosis between internal carotid artery (carotid system) and posterior cerebral artery (vertebrobasilar system)
Anterior choroidal artery (C7):
Supplies basal ganglia, thalamus, optic tract, hippocampus, amygdala and choroid plexus of lateral ventricles
Anterior cerebral artery (C7):
Supplies medial aspect of cerebral hemispheres as far back as parietal lobes
Anterior communicating artery (C7):
Connects left and right anterior cerebral arteries
Middle cerebral artery (C7):
Supplies large portion of lateral surface of cerebral hemisphere and part of internal capsule and basal ganglia
Vertebral artery Muscular and spinal branches (V1-V3): Supply various muscles of neck, cervical vertebrae, spinal dura mater and spinal cord
Meningeal branches (V2/3):
Supply dura mater of posterior fossa
Posterior inferior cerebellar artery (PICA)(V4): Supplies posteroinferior aspect of cerebellum
Basilar artery:
Formed by converging vertebral arteries.
Anterior inferior cerebellar artery (AICA):
Branch of basilar artery, supplies anterolateral aspect of cerebellum and part of medulla oblongata
Superior cerebellar artery: Branch of basilar artery, supplies superior aspect of cerebellum
Pontine arteries:
Branches of basilar artery, supply pons
Posterior cerebral arteries:
Terminal branches of basilar artery, supply posteromedial portion of temporal lobe and occipital lobe

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