What are the Cerebral Arteries?

Adrianne Baron, Artem Cheprasov
  • Author
    Adrianne Baron

    Adrianne has a master's degree in cancer biology and has taught high school and college biology.

  • Instructor
    Artem Cheprasov

    Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Learn about the blood supply of the brain and its arteries. Learn about the anatomy of brain arteries and veins and how they protect the brain from toxins. Updated: 10/19/2021

Table of Contents


Brain Blood Supply

What blood vessels provide blood supply to the brain? Like all parts of the body, the blood supply of brain tissue is provided by arteries, which are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to different parts of the body. Once the oxygen and nutrients have been obtained from this blood, the deoxygenated blood will be drained by blood vessels called veins.

Such a connection of the two major arteries that supply the brain is important because it serves as a backup system - i.e., in case a problem affects any one of the major arteries, all parts of the brain will continue to receive blood supply from the other artery. The normal rate of cerebral blood flow to the brain is generally 750 mL per minute, which is roughly 15% of the total output of the heart.

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  • 2:13 Internal Carotid Artery
  • 3:45 Anterior Cerebral Artery
  • 4:29 Posterior Cerebral Artery
  • 4:57 Circle of Willis
  • 7:05 Blood Brain Barrier
  • 8:49 Lesson Summary
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Cerebral Artery Anatomy

There are specific arteries that supply blood to the cerebrum of the brain. They are the anterior, posterior, and middle cerebral arteries. As their names suggest, the anterior cerebral artery supplies blood to the front portion of the cerebrum, the posterior cerebral artery supplies blood to the back of the cerebrum as well as some portions of the sides of the cerebrum, and the middle cerebral artery supplies blood to the middle and sides of the cerebrum.

The internal carotid artery and vertebral arteries

Diagram of the circulatory system showing the brain arteries

Specifically, the brain is supplied oxygenated blood by two pairs of arteries including the vertebral arteries and the internal carotid arteries. As they reach the brain, their arteries branch off and their terminal branches anastomose, or connect, to create a structure known as the Circle of Willis, which is located on the underside of the brain. The arterial branches that supply different parts of the brain arise from this Circle of Willis.

Internal Carotid Artery

The internal carotid artery branches off into a network of multiple arteries. It originates from the spinal cord at the level of the fourth vertebrae in the neck region. The internal carotid arteries move upward from the neck region to the cranium through the temporal bone in the cerebrum. The pulse can be taken from the internal carotid artery since blood pulsates through there from the heart. There is also an external carotid artery that branches off at the same point as the internal carotid artery. The external carotid artery supplies blood to the face and neck rather than the brain. The branches of the internal carotid artery are below.

  • Ophthalmic artery: This is the artery that supplies blood to the orbits of the eyes.
  • Posterior communicating artery: This artery acts as a point of connection within the Circle of Willis. It connects the internal carotid artery to the posterior cerebral arteries. Its function is a little different from the other arteries. It only functions when the internal carotid or posterior cerebral arteries are blocked and cannot supply blood to the brain.
  • Anterior choroidal artery: This artery branches off from the back of the internal carotid artery. It supplies blood to the parts of the brain that function in vision and motor control.

Anterior Cerebral Artery

The anterior cerebral artery branches from the internal carotid artery and are also part of the Circle of Willis. This cerebral artery is located toward the front of the brain, hence the name, since anterior means front. There are two main arteries that branch from the main anterior cerebral artery. They supply blood to the middle section of the frontal lobe, the upper, middle sections of the parietal lobe of the brain, and to deep portions of the brain. The anterior cerebral artery is broken down into five segments.

Posterior Cerebral Artery

The posterior cerebral artery is the artery that comes from the basilar artery. It branches off to give rise to the posterior choroidal artery, posterior communicating artery, and calcine artery. The posterior cerebral artery supplies blood to the back portions of the brain, since posterior means back, such as the occipital lobe and the back parts of the temporal lobes of the brain. There are four segments to the posterior cerebral artery.

Blood-Brain Barrier

The blood-brain barrier is a network of cells that prevent toxins from crossing into the brain fluid

Diagram of the blood-brain barrier

While the brain needs blood to function, there are many substances that would be harmful to the brain that it does not need to gain access to it. The blood brain barrier, or BBB is the structure of endothelial cells within the walls of the arteries that determine which substances from the blood can pass into the brain and which ones cannot pass into the brain. It prevents hydrophilic substances and harmful pathogens from entering the fluid around the brain and spinal cord known as cerebrospinal fluid. Cerebrospinal fluid must be sterile and free of detrimental substances in order to allow the brain and nerves to function normally. The blood-brain barrier allows some substances such as glucose, amino acids, and ions that are needed for functioning to cross the barrier from the blood into the brain.

Venous Drainage

The venous drainage system of the brain begins with the dural venous sinuses. These are drainage holes that are located within the meninges of the brain. They are responsible for draining blood from the brain, spinal cord, face, and scalp. There are a total of eleven dural venous sinuses and they end up dumping the blood that they have collected into the internal jugular vein. The internal jugular vein is the largest vein in the neck that is responsible for draining blood from the entire head region. It ultimately leads to the superior vena cava. There are two internal jugular veins, one on each side of the neck.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What two pairs of arteries supply the brain?

There are two arteries that supply blood to the brain. One is the internal carotid artery and the other is the vertebral artery. Both of these arteries branch off into a network of arteries that work together to supply blood to the brain.

What is a blocked artery in the brain?

A blocked artery in the brain is a stroke. It is called an ischemic stroke when a stroke occurs due to a blockage in one of the arteries of the brain. This is in contrast to a hemorrhagic stroke which is when there is a leaking of one of the arteries in the brain.

What are brain arteries called?

Brain arteries are the vertebral arteries and the internal carotid arteries. The different arteries of the brain connect together in a structure known as the Circle of Willis.

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