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Embryology: Branchial arch
Schematic of developing fetus with first, second and third arches labeled.
Floor of pharynx of human embryo about twenty-six days old.
Latin '
Gray's subject #13 65
Carnegie stage 10
Days {{{Days}}}
Gives rise to
MeSH A16.254.160
Dorlands/Elsevier a_57/12149648

In the development of vertebrate animals, the pharyngeal arches (also called branchial arches or gill arches in fish) develop during the fourth and fifth week in utero as a series of mesodermal outpouchings on the left and right sides of the developing pharynx. In fish, the branchial arches give rise to gills.


These grow and join in the ventral midline. The first arch, as the first to form, separates the mouth pit or stomodeum from the pericardium. By differential growth the neck elongates and new arches form, so the pharynx has six arches ultimately.

Each pharyngeal arch has a cartilaginous bar, a muscle component which differentiates from the cartilagenous tissue, an artery, and a cranial nerve. Each of these is surrounded by Mesenchyme. Arches do not develop simultaneously, but instead possess a "staggered" development.


Pharyngeal or branchial pouches form on the endodermal side between the arches, and pharyngeal grooves (or clefts) form from the lateral ectodermal surface of the neck region to separate the arches. [1]

The pouches line up with the clefts, and these thin segments become gills in fish.

In mammals the endoderm and ectoderm not only remain intact, but continue to be separated by a mesoderm layer.

Specific arches

There are six pharyngeal arches, but in humans the fifth arch only exists transiently during embryologic growth and development. Since no human structures result from the fifth arch, the arches in humans are I, II, III, IV, and VI. [2]

More is known about the fate of the first arch than the remaining four. The first three contribute to structures above the larynx, while the last two contribute to the larynx and trachea.

Pharyngeal arch Muscular contributions[3] Skeletal contributions Nerve Artery
1st (also called "mandibular arch") muscles of mastication, anterior belly of digastric, mylohyoid, tensor tympani, tensor veli palatini maxilla, mandible (only as a model for mandible not actual formation of mandible), the incus and malleus of the middle ear, also Meckel's cartilage Trigeminal nerve (V2 and V3) Maxillary artery
2nd (also called the "hyoid arch") Muscles of facial expression, buccinator, platysma, stapedius, stylohyoid, digastric posterior belly Stapes, styloid process, hyoid (lesser horn and upper Part of Body), Reichert's cartilage Facial nerve (VII) Stapedial Artery
3rd Stylopharyngeus Hyoid (greater horn and lower Part of Body) Glossopharyngeal nerve (IX) Common carotid/Internal carotid
4th intrinsic muscles of soft palate thyroid cartilage, epiglottic cartilage[4] Vagus nerve (X)
Superior laryngeal nerve[5]
Right 4 right subclavian artery Left 4 aortic arch
6th intrinsic muscles of larynx cricoid cartilage, arytenoid cartilages, corniculate cartilage[4] Vagus nerve (X)
Recurrent laryngeal nerve[5]
right 6 right pulmonary arteryLeft 6Pulmonary artery and ductus arteriosus

Use in staging

The development of the pharyngeal arches provide a useful morphological landmark with which to establish the precise stage of embryonic development. Their formation and development corresponds to Carnegie stages 10 to 16 in mammals, and Hamburger-Hamilton stages 14 to 28 in the chicken.

See also


Pattern of the branchial arches. I-IV branchial arches, 1-4 branchial pouches (inside) and/or pharyngeal grooves (outside)
a Tuberculum laterale
b Tuberculum impar
c Foramen cecum
d Ductus thyreoglossus
e Sinus cervicalis


  1. Lecture 24. Branchial Apparatus. URL accessed on 2007-09-09.
  2. Text for Pharyngeal Arch Development. URL accessed on 2007-09-09.
  3. URL accessed on 2007-09-09.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Netter, Frank H.; Cochard, Larry R. (2002). Netter's Atlas of human embryology, 227, Teterboro, N.J: Icon Learning Systems. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "isbn0-914168-99-1" defined multiple times with different content
  5. 5.0 5.1 Kyung Won, PhD. Chung (2005). Gross Anatomy (Board Review), Hagerstwon, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "BRS" defined multiple times with different content

External links

Template:Embryology of head and neck

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