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The Three Layers of Blood Vessels

Joanna Tatomir, Rebecca Gillaspy
  • Author
    Joanna Tatomir

    Joanna holds a PhD in Biology from the University of Michigan and is currently working towards a degree in Veterinary Medicine at Michigan State University. She has taught a combination of ESL and STEM courses to secondary and university students.

  • Instructor
    Rebecca Gillaspy

    Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Tunica externa, tunica media, and tunica intima make up the three layers of blood vessels. Learn their locations and functions. Also learn the differences. Updated: 03/25/2022

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Layers of Blood Vessels

The circulatory system in living organisms, including humans and other animals, is essential for the transport of blood throughout the body. As blood travels through the body, important substances such as gases, nutrients, and other organic molecules are also carried to different parts of the body.

In order to carry out these important functions, the circulatory system is comprised of a network of blood vessels, including arteries, veins, and capillaries:

  • Arteries are the largest blood vessels within the body and are essential for providing the major organs with the oxygen and nutrients needed to carry out their main functions.
  • Veins are blood vessels that are intermediate in size. For the most part, veins are responsible for transporting waste products and carbon dioxide back to the heart and lungs. Once arriving at these locations, the veins release these products for elimination from the body.
  • Capillaries are by far the smallest blood vessels in terms of their diameter and structure. Unlike arteries and veins, which are constructed from three layers of tissue, capillaries are thin-walled and only possess a single layer of tissue. This enables gas and nutrient exchange to occur via diffusion across the capillary walls.

This lesson will focus primarily upon arteries and veins, two blood vessel types consisting of three tissue layers. The three tissue layers of blood vessels found in both arteries and veins include the tunica intima, the tunica media, and the tunica externa.


A comparison of the three layers of arteries and veins. e: tunica intima; m: tunica media; a: tunica externa.

Diagram comparing the three tissue layers of arteries and veins.


Layers of Arteries

As mentioned earlier, arteries are the largest blood vessels in the human body. The main function of the arteries is to transport oxygenated blood, nutrients, and other molecules to different parts of the body. Due to the large size of arteries, blood traveling through these blood vessels must be kept at a constant pressure.

To maintain high pressure within these blood vessels, arteries need to be both strong and flexible. This allows arteries to contract and expand as needed in order to control blood flow and blood pressure. As a result, arteries consist of three layers of tissues. These layers of artery include the tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica externa.


An illustration showing the three layers of tissues found in arteries.

Diagram showing the three layers of tissues in arteries.


Layers of Veins

Veins are the other main type of blood vessel possessing three layers of tissue. The main function of veins is to carry waste products and deoxygenated blood away from tissues and organs. Veins help to eliminate waste products from the body and return deoxygenated blood back to the heart for re-oxygenation. As with arteries, the three tissue layers of veins include the tunica intima, tunica media, and tunica externa.


An illustration showing the three layers of tissues in veins.

Diagram showing the three layers of tissues in veins.


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  • 0:06 Blood Vessels
  • 0:50 Layers of Blood Vessel Walls
  • 1:08 Tunica Intima
  • 2:09 Tunica Media
  • 3:58 Tunica Adventitia
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Tunica Intima

The tunica intima is the innermost layer of tissue comprising the walls of blood vessels. Although it is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the tunica interna, "intima" is the proper designation, as it is found in the inner layer of blood vessels. The tunica intima is the thinnest of the three layers and is made from a single layer of endothelial cells. The tunica intima is the only tissue layer found in all of the parts of the circulatory system.

Tunica Intima Function

In addition to epithelial cells, the tunica intima is also comprised of elastic fibers that run along the length of blood vessels. As a result, one of the main functions of the tunica intima is to provide structural support to the larger blood vessels. In the capillaries, which are only comprised of the tunica intima, this thin tissue layer is responsible for the exchange of gases and nutrients through the capillary walls.

Tunica Media

The tunica media is the middle layer of tissue forming the walls of blood vessels. Unlike the tunica intima, the tunica media is comprised of a combination of smooth muscle fibers, elastic fibers, and connective tissues that are organized like rings around the circumference of veins and arteries. The tunica media is thicker in arteries than in veins. This is due primarily to presence of fewer muscle and elastic fibers in veins, where blood pressure does not need to be maintained at as high a level as it does in the arteries.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What type of tissue is tunica externa?

The tunica externa is comprised of connective tissue fibers. These fibers are responsible for providing the structure and shape of blood vessels.

What are the 3 layers of a vein?

Veins consist of three tissue layers, much like arteries. These layers are the tunica intima, the tunica media, and the tunic externa.

Where is the tunica media?

The tunica media is the middle layer of tissue found in blood vessels. It is comprised of smooth muscle fibers that help to constrict, or narrow the width of, blood vessels.

What is the difference between tunica media and intima?

The tunica media is the middle layer of tissue forming the walls of blood vessels. By contrast, the tunica intima is the inner layer. The tunica intima is the only layer found throughout the cardiovascular system.

What is the composition and function of tunica intima?

The tunica intima consists of a single layer of endothelial cells. In the capillaries, the main function of the tunica intima is to allow for the exchange of gases and nutrients.

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