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Veins of the brain

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Identify the main superficial cerebral veins and their tributaries. 
  2. Name the main deep cerebral veins. 
  3. Learn about the venous drainage of each area of the brain. 
  4. Appreciate the venous drainage of the cerebellum and brainstem.

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The brain is an especially well-vascularized organ, receiving approximately twenty percent of cardiac output. The veins of the brain drain the blood from the entire brain as well as the surrounding structures (meninges, eyeballs etc). The drained blood is then first returned to the dural venous sinuses  and then the internal jugular vein. Structurally, the veins of the brain lack a muscular layer (tunica media), which allows them to expand and collapse substantially. There are two types of venous systems that drain the blood from the brain. These are the superficial (external) venous system and the deep (internal) venous system

The superficial cerebral veins are found in the subarachnoid space (i.e. between the arachnoid and pia mater) on the external surface of the cerebrum. They are divided into groups in relation to the part of the brain that they drain: the superior, middle and inferior cerebral veins.

The deep venous system of the cerebrum is composed of a series of venous sinuses and deep cerebral veins. Numerous medullary veins extend throughout the white matter of the cerebrum, and drain into subependymal veins along the inner surface of the lateral ventricles leading to the formation of larger cerebral veins mainly internal cerebral veins, basal vein (of Rosenthal) and great cerebral vein (of Galen). The subependymal veins and subsequent deep medullary veins drain into the dural sinuses before emptying into the internal jugular vein.  

Venous drainage of the cerebellum is achieved by the superior and inferior cerebellar veins which drain into the great cerebral vein (of Galen), the straight sinus, the superior petrosal sinus, or the sigmoid sinus. 

Veins of the brainstem form an intricate plexus deep to the arteries of the brainstem and drain to the veins of the spinal cord, basal vein, great cerebral vein (of Galen), cerebellar veins and/or the dural venous sinuses.

This video tutorial will provide you with an overview of the superficial veins of the brain.

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Browse atlas

Explore the veins of the brain in the gallery below from medial, lateral and inferior views.


Key facts about the veins of the brain
Superficial cerebral veins Superior cerebral veins:
Frontopolar vein, frontal veins, central vein, parietal veins, occipital veins
Superficial middle cerebral vein (of Sylvius
Frontal veins, parietal veins, temporal veins, superior anastomotic vein (of Trolard), inferior anastomotic vein (of Labbé)
Inferior cerebral veins
Orbitofrontal veins, vein of uncus, temporal veins, occipital veins
Deep cerebral veins Great cerebral vein (of Galen):
Main tributaries: Internal cerebral vein, basal vein, posterior vein of corpus callosum, lateral direct cerebral veins, superior thalamostriate vein and inferior sagittal sinus
Internal cerebral vein
Main tributaries: Superior choroidal vein and superior thalamocerebral veins
Basal vein
Main tributaries: Anterior cerebral vein, deep middle cerebral vein, inferior thalamostriate veins and inferior choroidal vein
Veins of cerebellum Superior cerebellar vein
Inferior cerebellar vein
Veins of brainstem Midbrain:
Veins of midbrain → great cerebral vein (of Galen) or basal vein
Pontine veins → basal vein, cerebellar veins, petrosal sinuses, transverse sinus or venous plexus of foramen ovale
Pontomesencephalic vein → superior petrosal sinus
Medulla oblongata
Medullary veins → inferior petrosal, occipital sinuses, internal jugular vein or radicular veins of spinal cord

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