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Arteries carry blood away from the heart. They are classified into three types according to their
size: large or elastic arteries; medium (or muscular or distributive) arteries; and small arteries or
arterioles, which are less than 0.5 mm in diameter. These types are all continuous with one
another. A characteristic feature of arteries, regardless of size, is a well-defined lumen, rounded
or oval, maintained by the muscularity of the vessel wall.

Large Arteries:
The aorta and its branches (brachiocephalic, subclavian, pulmonary, beginning of common
carotid and iliac) are distinguished by their great elasticity. This helps them smooth out the large
fluctuations in blood pressure created by the heartbeat. During systole, their elastic laminae are
stretched and reduce blood pressure. During diastole, the elastic rebound helps maintain arterial
Tunica intima: Large arteries often have a large subendothelial layer, which grows with age or
disease conditions (arteriosclerosis). Both connective tissue and smooth muscle are present in the
intima. The border of the intima is delineated by the internal elastic membrane. The internal
elastic membrane may not be conspicuous because of the abundance of elastic material in the
tunica media.
Tunica media: This is the thickest of the three layers. The smooth muscle cells are arranged in a
spiral around the long axis of the vessel. They secrete elastin in the form of sheets, or lamellae,
which are fenestrated to facilitate diffusion. The number of lamellae increase with age (few at
birth, 40-70 in adult) and with hypertension. These lamellae, and the large size of the media, are
the most striking histological feature of elastic arteries. In addition to elastin, the smooth muscle
cells of the media secrete reticular and fine collagen fibers and proteoglycans (all not
identifiable). No fibroblasts are present.
Tunica adventitia: This is a relatively thin connective tissue layer. Fibroblasts arethe predominant
cell type, and many macrophages are also present. Collagen fibres predominate and elastic fibres
(not lamellae) are also present. The collagen in the adventitia prevents elastic arteries from
stretching beyond their physiological limits during systole. Blood vessels supplying the
adventitia and outer media are also present, these are called vasa vasorum ("vessels of the
vessels"). (The inner part of the media is supplied from the lumen via pinocytic transport).

Low power view of the aorta

Figure 11 shows a low power view of the aorta (from slide 29).
The thickness of the tunica media and the abundance of wavy red
elastic lamellae is evident. Elastin is also present in the (partially
detached) tunica intima but the endothelium cannot be
distinguished. An arteriole (vasa vasorum) is present in the
adventitia. The big red lines running across the aorta are artefacts
produced where the tissue folded during preparation.

High power view of the aorta

Figure 12 shows a higher power view of the aorta. At this magnification, it is
hard to distinguish the tunica intima from the tunica media. (It is easier to do at
lower magnification because the staining differences (muscular media more
reddish, CT intima more yellowish) are more obvious.) At this magnification,
the elastic lamellae are the most conspicuous features of both the intima and
media. In addition, some endothelial cell nuclei can be seen. (These are
frequently stripped away during preparation, if you dont find them in some
areas of your slides, that is what happened.) Pale, purple smooth muscle cells
nuclei can be seen mainly in the media, but are also present in the intima. A bit
of the collagenous adventitia is seen at the extreme top right. The upper and lower part of the
aorta within the field of view are bounded by artefacts (folds in tissue).

Medium Arteries:
The majority of named arteries are medium (muscular or distributive) arteries. There is no sharp
dividing line between elastic (large) and muscular (medium) arteries; in areas of transition,
arteries may appear as intermediates between the two types. Medium arteries have less elastic
tissue than large arteries, the predominant constituent of the tunica media is smooth muscle.
Tunica intima: The tunica intima is thinner than in large arteries, there are fewer smooth muscle
cells and less elastic tissue. The outermost part of the intima is defined by a very prominent
internal elastic membrane (not obscured by elastic lamellae as in large arteries). The basement
membrane of the endothelium may rest directly on the internal elastic membrane, or be separated
by a subendothelial layer of CT. The tunica intima increases in thickness with age, and may also
become expanded by lipid deposits.
Tunica media: Smooth muscle cells predominate in the tunica media, and little elastic material is
present. As in large arteries, no fibroblasts are present. Elastic fibres (few), collagen, and ground
substance are produced by the smooth muscle cells. These are arranged in a spiral fashion and
their contraction helps maintain blood pressure. In tissue preparation, the internal elastic
membrane of the intima appears wavy due to the contraction of the smooth muscle of the media.
Tunica adventitia: The main constituent of the adventitia is collagen fibres, secreted by
fibroblasts. Elastic fibres are also present, a concentration of such fibres at the inner boundary of
the adventitia is called the external elastic membrane. The external elastic membrane is not as
prominent as the internal, and as arteries get smaller (see small arteries, below) disappears much

earlier. The tunica adventita is relatively larger than in elastic arteries, it can be up to the same
size as the media. It will often blend in with the CT of surrounding structures. Adipose cells may
be present.

Low power view of a medium artery

Figure 13 shows a low power view of a medium artery. Notice
how the shape of the vessel is fairly well-defined. The tunica
intima cannot be clearly distinguished at this magnification. The
muscular tunica media stains reddish, and the internal and
external elastic membranes bordering it can be distinguished.
The collagenous adventitia blends in with surrounding
connective tissue. Two folds and a tear (artefacts) are present in
the wall.

High power view of the wall of muscular artery

Figure 14 shows a higher power view of the wall of a medium or
muscular artery. The large media consists mainly of smooth
muscle whose nuclei can be discerned with a bit of effort. Fine
wavy elastic fibres can also be seen in the media. No endothelial
cell nuclei can be clearly seen in the intima, however a
subendothelial layer of CT and well-defined internal elastic
membrane are present. Part of the adventitia is in the field of
view, its external elastic membrane is prominent, and other elastic fibres can be seen within it.

Small Arteries:
Different textbooks will give slightly different numbers for what constitutes the diameter of
small arteries and arterioles. Again there is a gradation to larger vessels. The general construction
of small arteries is very similar to that of muscular arteries. The media is still muscular and has
up to 8-10 layers of smooth muscle cells. This number is reduced as the arteries get smaller, the
smallest arterioles have 1-2 layers of smooth muscle cells. The adventitia becomes thinner and
the external elastic membrane disappears. The intima becomes smaller and the internal elastic
membrane also eventually disappears. However, it persist much longer than the external, and it is
not uncommon to see very small arteries which still have an internal elastic membrane. Small
arteries also maintain their shape, and tend to be round or oval.

High power view of small artery

Figure 15 shows a high power view of a small artery. (It is the

vasa vasorum of Fig. 11.) Notice its rounded shape, the
muscularity of the media (counting smooth muscle nuclei reveals
about 5 or 6 layers of smooth muscle) and the persistence of the
internal elastic membrane. Elastic tissue is also seen in the
adventitia, an external elastic membrane can almost be imagined
toward the bottom of the figure. The endothelial cell nuclei bulge
prominently into the lumen (their presence is a matter of luck as
they are often removed), but no subendothelial tissue is visible.
Red blood cells are present in the lumen.

High power view of small artery and arteriole

Figure 16 shows a high power view of a small artery (above) and
arteriole (below). (They are vasa vasorum of a large vein.) The
arteriole has only 2 layers of smooth muscle. Endothelial cell
nuclei can be seen in both cases but the internal elastic
membranes have disappeared. The adventitias blend in
completely with surrounding CT. Note that even these small
vessels retain their shape.

Veins are the vessels that return blood to the heart. Like arteries, they are classified as large,
medium and small, and the sizes blend into one another with no sharp demarcations. Although
the same layers (intima, media and adventitia) are present, they are often not as well defined as
in arteries. A big difference between arteries and veins is the thickness of their walls and the
relative amount of muscle tissue (media). In comparably sized vessels, arteries have thicker walls
and a much larger media. In veins, the adventitia is larger than the media. Because of these
features, veins do not retain their shape. They often appear floppy in sections, and the lumen may
not be patent. Veins are frequently of an irregular shape. Veins also have less elastic tissue than
do arteries. Even in larger veins, the internal elastic membrane may be poorly developed or
absent. (It may also be present, so dont assume something is an artery just because you see
elastic tissue.) Valves, which function to prevent the backflow of blood especially in the lower
part of the body, are also seen quite frequently in veins. Veins often travel in close proximity to
their arterial counterparts, which is convenient for histological comparison.

Large veins:
The large veins are the venae cavae and portal vein and their tributaries.
The tunica intima consists of the endothelial lining with its basement membrane, a small amount
of subendothelial connective tissue and some smooth muscle cells. It blends in with the tunica
media which is relatively thin, and in addition to smooth muscle cells may contain collagen
fibres and some fibroblasts (in contrast with the media of arteries). The most distinguishing
feature of large veins is the large tunica adventitia. The adventitia is the thickest layer in large

veins and is made of collagen fibres, some elastic fibres and fibroblasts. Prominent bundles of
longitudinally-arranged smooth muscle are a distinguishing feature.

Low power view of large vein

Figure 17 shows part of a large vein in cross section. Note that the
lumen is irregular, the media is relatively small, and the
adventitia, with smooth muscle bundles, is several times as wide
as the media. The intima cannot be distinguished at this
magnification. The vein is lying in loose connective tissue with
some blood vessels and much adipose tissue.

Higher power view of wall of large

Figure 18 shows a higher power view of the wall of the large vein in Figure 17.
The endothelium appears to have been stripped away as no endothelial cell
nuclei are identifiable. Bundles of smooth muscle sit in the wavy collagen fibres
of the adventitia. Blood vessels (vasa vasorum) are also seen.

Medium Veins:
The tunica consists of the endothelium and a thin subendothelial layer with smooth muscle cells
among the connective tissue elements. A thin internal elastic membrane may or may not be
present. (If present, it is not nearly as prominent as in arteries).
The tunica media is much thinner relative to that of an artery, and consists mostly of circularly
arranged smooth muscle but also contains collagen fibres. The tunicas intima and media
therefore tend to be less distinct from one another than is the case in arteries.
The tunica adventitia is usually thicker than the media and is made up mostly of collagen fibres.
It may contain longitudinally oriented smooth muscle bundles. (Remember gradations between
the vessels of different sizes are continuous.)

Medium vein with a valve

Figure 19 shows a part of a medium vein with a valve. Note the
thinness of the veins wall in contrast to the wall of a small artery
lying to the left. The two vessels are separated by some adipose
tissue. The tunica intima of the vein cannot be distinguished from
the media. Its lumen contains a large amount of coagulated blood,
and some non-coagulated blood cells toward the top.

High power view of vein wall and valve

Figure 20 shows a high power view of the top part of the vein and
the valve seen in Figure 19. A few endothelial cell nuclei can be
seen but the intima is not distinct. The valve is a fold of the tunica
intima reinforced with connective tissue. The tunica media and
tunica adventitia are about the same size, the latter blends merges
with the surrounding connective tissue (which in the field of view
is adipose tissue). Some coagulated blood can be seen adhering to
the right side of the valve, and dispersed to the left of it. Some
individual, mainly white, blood cells can be seen at the top.

High power view of

medium vein
Figure 21 shows a high power view of another medium vein. The
lumen is irregular, and the tunica media and adventitia are about
the same size. A few muscle bundles are seen in the adventitia. At
the top of the figure, the circularly arranged smooth muscle of the
media is broken up with connective tissue (asterisks), creating an
indistinct boundary between the media and adventitia. The
endothelium has been stripped away and the intima is not
distinguishable. Some coagulated blood is seen in the lumen. Adipose tissue and a nerve are seen
at the right of the figure.

Medium artery and vien

Figure 22 shows part of the wall of a medium artery and part of
its (presumably) accompanying vein. The vein has been cut in a
longitudinal section. (The bottom of the vein and surrounding
tissue have been damaged, so ignore everything below the upper
wall of the vein.) Neither tunica intima (if still present) can be
distinguished at this magnification, but the wavy, red internal
elastic membrane denoting the outermost part of the intima is
seen clearly in the artery. The tunica media of the artery is several
times larger than that of the vein, and the shape of its lumen (even though only a bit is visible) is
regular. In contrast, the lumen of the vein is wavy. The adventitia of both vessels blends in with
the connective tissue through which they are travelling.

Small Veins or Venules:

Different types of venules are described but are not distinguishable with the light microscope.
Post capillary venules (which receive blood from capillaries) have only an endothelial lining
(intima) and lack a smooth muscle media. They are surrounded by pericytes, which are
undifferentiated mesenchymal cells. The basement membrane of the endothelial cells and
pericytes may fuse. It is at the level of post-capillary venules that white blood cells leave the
blood to enter the tissue. The endothelium of post-capillary venules is the main site of action for

vasoactive agents such as histamine and serotonin which cause extravasation of fluid and WBCs
during inflammation or allergic reactions.
Collecting venules have a thin adventitia in addition to the pericytes surrounding the intima. The
adventitia consists of of longitudinally arranged collagen fibres with a few elastin fibres.
Muscular venules have 1-3 layers of smooth muscle surrounding the intima, and an adventitia as
described above.
When looking at a venule which appears to have a media, it is generally not possible to tell if the
nuclei of the media belong to smooth muscle cells or pericytes.

Arteriole and venules

Figure 23 shows one arteriole and two venules lying in some
adipose tissue (looks like chicken wire fence). Some endothelial
cell nuclei can be seen bulging into the lumen of the arteriole.
The wall of the arteriole is seen to be thicker than that of the
venules and its lumen is well-defined. The adventitia is not
distinct in any of the vessels, and blends in with the little bit of
yellowish collagenous CT through which they are running.

Small artery and vein

Figure 24 shows a small artery and vein found at the periphery of
a ganglion (slide 80). These vessels are larger than those in the
previous figure but I call them small as the artery has fewer than
8 layers of smooth muscle. Part of another small vein is seen at
the bottom left. Red blood cells can be seen in the lumina of all
three vessels.
The media of the small artery is much larger than that of the
small veins. A few bulgy endothelial cells can be seen in the artery, but otherwise an intima is not
distinguishable. Elastic tissue is also not identifiable. A few flattened endothelial cells appear to
be present in the vein. The adventitia of the vessels blends in with the surrounding CT. An
adventitia is most distinct along the top left of the vein, where it borders on adipose cells.

Capillaries are the smallest diameter vessels and the site of exchange of metabolites between
blood and tissues. Capillaries are just wide enough to allow the passage of red blood cells, only
one cell at a time. (It is during this squeezing through the capillaries that mis-shapen RBCs, as in
sickle cell anemia and thalassemia, rupture.)
Capillaries consist of a single layer of endothelial cells and their basement membrane. The
endothelial cells are joined together by tight junctions. At intervals, these tight junctions are

interrupted, leaving small spaces allowing the passage of fluid between blood and ECF. These
interruptions do not occur in the brain, and the lack thereof is responsible for the blood-brain
barrier present in most of the brain. Endothelial cells also have pinocytotic vesicles which are
involved in transporting macromolecules.
Capillaries are classified according to the structure of their endothelial cells.
1. Continuous capillaries (most capillaries) have a continuous endothelial cells with no
fenestrations (openings) in their walls. They are found in nervous tissue, muscle tissue,
lung, connective tissue and exocrine glands.
2. a. Fenestrated capillaries have endothelial cells in which are found small openings, called
fenestrae, of about 80- 100 nm in diameter. The fenestrations are covered by a small nonmembranous diaphragm (which may be the remnant of the glycocalyx enclosed by
pinocytotic vesicles from which the fenestrae may be formed). The basement membrane
of endothelial cells is continuous over the fenestrae. Fenestrae allow greater permeability
and the rapid passage of macromolecules smaller than plasma proteins. Fenestrated
capillaries are found in the intestine and endocrine glands.
b. A special type of fenestrated capillary with no diaphragm is found in the renal
glomerulus. This capillary has a thick basement membrane.
3. Sinusoids, also called discontinuous capillaries, have a large lumen and follow a tortuous
path. They have many fenestrations with no diaphragm , and a discontinuous or absent
basal lamina. The lumen is lined with phagocytic cells. They are found in the liver,
hematopoietic organs (bone marrow, spleen) and some endocrine organs.
At intervals, the endothelial cells of capillaries may be surrounded by pericytes, undifferentiated
mesenchyme cells (as in post-capillary venules). Pericytes can differentiate into fibroblasts and
smooth muscle cell, and function in wound repair and the formation of new vessels. Pericytes are
associated much more frequently with continuous than with fenestrated capillaries.
It is not possible to distinguish different types of capillaries (except sinusoids) with the light
microscope. They are recognized by their small (1 RBC) diameter and thin wall.

Capillaries in longitudinal section

Figure 25 shows some capillaries in longitudinal section running
along nerve cell bodies (somata) and fibres in a ganglion (slide
80). Note how the red blood cells are stacked one on top of
another in the capillaries. Some endothelial cell nuclei can be
seen. In addition to the capillaries, some larger blood vessels can
be seen.

Section of tongue with capillaries and other blood


Figure 26 shows a section through muscle tissue with

capillaries and larger blood vessels from the tongue (slide 92;
the tissue at the top right is nervous tissue). The blood vessels
are expanded and blood cells are absent because the specimen
has been perfused. The smallest circles are the capillaries, often
an endothelial cell nucleus can be seen. Circles that are larger
than the size of a single red blood cells are larger blood vessels.