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The brachial plexus – explaining its morphology and variability by a generic developmental model

(2019) JOURNAL OF ANATOMY. 236(5). p.862-882
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Abstract
In classic anatomy teaching, the brachial plexus generally features as an enigmatic rote-learned structure, leaving the student with a feeling of complexity. The notion of complexity may increase in dissections, where plexuses significantly differing from the standard plexus model are readily found. This raises questions: what determines the existence and prevalence of variants and to what degree should they be considered anomalous? A model linking brachial plexus morphology and its variability to causative morphological parameters which would also standardize plexus description and teaching would be beneficial. The present study aims to provide such a model by analyzing the context of plexus development and applying this model in the analysis of plexus variability in anatomical specimens. Based on a thorough literature review, a generic developmental model was formulated and different factors of variability defined. In 56 plexuses, the proposed generic principles of plexus variability were found consistent with the variations encountered. Summarized, the modeled generic principles are as follows. Brachial plexus axon bundles grow out into an environment of chemical tracer paths in which constraints and obstacles are present: the geometry of the arm bud, cartilaginous bone precursors and vessels. The overall constancy of these factors generates a gross plexus outline, while the variability in these factors gives rise to typical plexus variations. The usefulness of the model derives from the fact that the variability of the main morphologically determining factors is not random but is the expression of the possibilities of the embryological substrate. Within the model, the major plexus morphological determinant is the segmental position of the subclavian artery, which is determined by the segment level of the intersegmental artery from which it develops. Normally, the subclavian artery develops from intersegmental artery i7. However, the subclavian artery can develop from inferior or superior segmental levels, from intersegmental artery i8 or i6, and possibly also from i9 or i5. Each of these arterial variants creates a typical, morphologically distinct, predictable plexus configuration. Superimposed on these basic plexus configurations, the underlying embryological substrate may develop further variability by integrating remnants of other intersegmental arteries into the arterial network. The resulting plexus configurations are further modified by local factors, e.g. the splitting of outgrowing axon bundles around vessels. A large split in the lateral cord around a large vein or veins crossing from lateral to medial, tangentially cranially over the subclavian artery was found in 54% of the 56 investigated BP and therefore might be added to plexus teaching. The distinct plexus morphologies associated with the subclavian artery segmental levels were further found associated with, among others, typical variations in the pectoral nerves and their ansas; these associations were also modeled. The presented models could allow brachial plexus rote learning to be replaced by a more insightful narrative of formative principles suitable for teaching. Clinically, improved understanding of the relationship between plexus variability and the local anatomical environment should be relevant to brachial plexus surgery and reconstruction.
Keywords
Anatomy, Developmental Biology, Cell Biology, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics, Molecular Biology, Histology, PECTORAL NERVES, ANATOMICAL VARIATIONS, SURGICAL ANATOMY, AXILLARY ARTERY, RECONSTRUCTION, GROWTH, CORD, anatomical variability, anatomy, brachial plexus, development, generic model, morphology, pectoral nerves, peripheral nerves

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MLA
Leijnse, Joris Nikolaas, et al. “The Brachial Plexus – Explaining Its Morphology and Variability by a Generic Developmental Model.” JOURNAL OF ANATOMY, vol. 236, no. 5, 2019, pp. 862–82, doi:10.1111/joa.13123.
APA
Leijnse, J. N., Bakker, B. S., & D’Herde, K. (2019). The brachial plexus – explaining its morphology and variability by a generic developmental model. JOURNAL OF ANATOMY, 236(5), 862–882. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.13123
Chicago author-date
Leijnse, Joris Nikolaas, Bernadette S. Bakker, and Katharina D’Herde. 2019. “The Brachial Plexus – Explaining Its Morphology and Variability by a Generic Developmental Model.” JOURNAL OF ANATOMY 236 (5): 862–82. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.13123.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Leijnse, Joris Nikolaas, Bernadette S. Bakker, and Katharina D’Herde. 2019. “The Brachial Plexus – Explaining Its Morphology and Variability by a Generic Developmental Model.” JOURNAL OF ANATOMY 236 (5): 862–882. doi:10.1111/joa.13123.
Vancouver
1.
Leijnse JN, Bakker BS, D’Herde K. The brachial plexus – explaining its morphology and variability by a generic developmental model. JOURNAL OF ANATOMY. 2019;236(5):862–82.
IEEE
[1]
J. N. Leijnse, B. S. Bakker, and K. D’Herde, “The brachial plexus – explaining its morphology and variability by a generic developmental model,” JOURNAL OF ANATOMY, vol. 236, no. 5, pp. 862–882, 2019.
@article{8664898,
  abstract     = {{In classic anatomy teaching, the brachial plexus generally features as an enigmatic rote-learned structure, leaving the student with a feeling of complexity. The notion of complexity may increase in dissections, where plexuses significantly differing from the standard plexus model are readily found. This raises questions: what determines the existence and prevalence of variants and to what degree should they be considered anomalous? A model linking brachial plexus morphology and its variability to causative morphological parameters which would also standardize plexus description and teaching would be beneficial. The present study aims to provide such a model by analyzing the context of plexus development and applying this model in the analysis of plexus variability in anatomical specimens. Based on a thorough literature review, a generic developmental model was formulated and different factors of variability defined. In 56 plexuses, the proposed generic principles of plexus variability were found consistent with the variations encountered. Summarized, the modeled generic principles are as follows. Brachial plexus axon bundles grow out into an environment of chemical tracer paths in which constraints and obstacles are present: the geometry of the arm bud, cartilaginous bone precursors and vessels. The overall constancy of these factors generates a gross plexus outline, while the variability in these factors gives rise to typical plexus variations. The usefulness of the model derives from the fact that the variability of the main morphologically determining factors is not random but is the expression of the possibilities of the embryological substrate. Within the model, the major plexus morphological determinant is the segmental position of the subclavian artery, which is determined by the segment level of the intersegmental artery from which it develops. Normally, the subclavian artery develops from intersegmental artery i7. However, the subclavian artery can develop from inferior or superior segmental levels, from intersegmental artery i8 or i6, and possibly also from i9 or i5. Each of these arterial variants creates a typical, morphologically distinct, predictable plexus configuration. Superimposed on these basic plexus configurations, the underlying embryological substrate may develop further variability by integrating remnants of other intersegmental arteries into the arterial network. The resulting plexus configurations are further modified by local factors, e.g. the splitting of outgrowing axon bundles around vessels. A large split in the lateral cord around a large vein or veins crossing from lateral to medial, tangentially cranially over the subclavian artery was found in 54% of the 56 investigated BP and therefore might be added to plexus teaching. The distinct plexus morphologies associated with the subclavian artery segmental levels were further found associated with, among others, typical variations in the pectoral nerves and their ansas; these associations were also modeled. The presented models could allow brachial plexus rote learning to be replaced by a more insightful narrative of formative principles suitable for teaching. Clinically, improved understanding of the relationship between plexus variability and the local anatomical environment should be relevant to brachial plexus surgery and reconstruction.}},
  author       = {{Leijnse, Joris Nikolaas and Bakker, Bernadette S. and D'Herde, Katharina}},
  issn         = {{0021-8782}},
  journal      = {{JOURNAL OF ANATOMY}},
  keywords     = {{Anatomy,Developmental Biology,Cell Biology,Ecology,Evolution,Behavior and Systematics,Molecular Biology,Histology,PECTORAL NERVES,ANATOMICAL VARIATIONS,SURGICAL ANATOMY,AXILLARY ARTERY,RECONSTRUCTION,GROWTH,CORD,anatomical variability,anatomy,brachial plexus,development,generic model,morphology,pectoral nerves,peripheral nerves}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  number       = {{5}},
  pages        = {{862--882}},
  title        = {{The brachial plexus – explaining its morphology and variability by a generic developmental model}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/joa.13123}},
  volume       = {{236}},
  year         = {{2019}},
}

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