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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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Corona Mortis

Important for inguinal hernia anatomy and surgery, this term is Latin from [corona] meaning "crown' and [mortis] meaning "death'; the "crown or circle of death". The corona mortis (blue arrow) refers to an anatomical variation1, a vascular anastomosis between the obturator and the external iliac vascular systems that passes over Cooper's pectineal ligament and posterior to the lacunar (Gimbernat's) ligament. 

In some cases, the corona mortis is the actual obturator artery that arises from the inferior epigastric artery instead of the internal iliac artery. It can also arise from the external iliac artery. In both cases, it has been called an "aberrant obturator artery". This could be a misnomer, as this anatomical variation can be present in up to 25% of the cases. When present, the corona mortis  can be injured when a surgeon looks to enlarge the femoral ring by opening the lacunar ligament from the anterior aspect. In this approach the "corona mortis" is not visible, as it is found immediately posterior to the lacunar ligament. This vascular structure could even be endangered in a laparoscopic procedure for inguinal of femoral hernia repair and a staple or tack is driven blindly into the pectineal (Cooper's) ligament.

Corona Mortis (A)Image property of:CAA.Inc.Artist:M. Zuptich

Berberoglu states that "although these tiny anastomoses... have been described in classical anatomy textbooks, these texts neglect to mention that theses anastomoses can be life-threatening".

In some rare cases, the corona mortis (aberrant obturator artery) coexists with the normal obturator artery.  Although called a [corona], this anatomical structure is an incomplete circle. In the image, the [corona mortis] is labeled "A".

Sources:
1. Rusu et al: "Anatomical considerations on the corona mortis" Surg Radiol Anat (2010) 32:17–24
2. Berberoglu et al: "An anatomic study in seven cadavers and an endoscopic study in 28 patients" Surg Endosc (2001) 15:72-75