Anatomy and Embryology

, Volume 176, Issue 4, pp 401–411

Branches of the thoracic sympathetic trunk in the human fetus


  • G. J. Groen
    • Department of Anatomy and EmbryologyUniversity of Amsterdam
  • B. Baljet
    • Department of Anatomy and EmbryologyUniversity of Amsterdam
  • A. B. Boekelaar
    • Department of Anatomy and EmbryologyUniversity of Amsterdam
  • J. Drukker
    • Department of Anatomy and EmbryologyUniversity of Limburg

DOI: 10.1007/BF00310082

Cite this article as:
Groen, G.J., Baljet, B., Boekelaar, A.B. et al. Anat Embryol (1987) 176: 401. doi:10.1007/BF00310082


The segmental organization of the thoracic sympathetic trunk and all its ramifications was studied in 6 human fetuses (16–22 weeks) by means of the acetylcholinesterase in toto staining method. Each trunk was divided into 12 sympathetic segments. A segment is defined as that part of the sympathetic trunk which is connected via its rami communicates with one spinal nerve, without discriminating between grey and white rami. The diameter of the rami communicantes and their direction towards the spinal nerves are variable. The number of peripheral segmental ramifications of the trunk is much larger than assumed previously. Each thoracic sympathetic segment gives off at least 4–5 nerves. Three categories of nerves are discerned: (1) large splanchnic rootlets confined to the greater, lesser and least thoracic splanchnic nerves, (2) medium-sized splanchnic nerves directed towards thoracic viscera, some of which give off branches towards costovertebral joint plexuses and, described for the first time in man, (3) small nerves which ramify extensively and form nerve plexuses in the capsule of the costovertebral joints. The majority of the ramifications is formed by the nerves of the third category. The existence of Kuntz's nerve, connecting the 2nd intercostal nerve and 1st thoracic spinal nerve, is confirmed in four specimens. The nerve plexuses of the costovertebral joints receive a segmentally organized innervation: they receive their input from the neighbouring sympathetic segment and the one cranial to it.

It is concluded that the thoracic sympathetic branches in man show a complex, segmentally organized pattern and may have a considerable component of somatosensory nerve fibers. The complex relationships must be taken into account in surgical sympathectomies.

Key words

Peripheral autonomic nervous systemThorascic sympathetic nervesCostovertebral jointAcetylcho-linesterase in toto stainingHuman fetus

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987