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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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Conduction system of the heart

The conduction system of the heart is formed by a group of specialized cardiac muscle structures that serve as pacemakers and distributors of the electrical stimuli that make the heart beat coordinatedly. It is important to stress the fact that the "conduction system of the heart" is not formed by nerves.

Components of the conduction system of the heart:

• SA node: The sinuatrial (SA) node is a small nodule of cardiac muscle tissue, somewhat horseshoe-shaped that is found at the junction of the superior vena cava and the right atrium. It receives blood supply from the SA node artery, a branch of the right coronary artery. It receives innervation from both sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves

Conduction system of the heart

• AV node: The atrioventricular (AV) node is found at the junction of atria and ventricles in an area known as the "Triangle of Koch". Its function is to delay the electrical impulse passing from the atria to the ventricles by 1/10th of a second, enabling the sequential pumping action of the heart. The eponymic name for the AV node is "node of Aschoff-Tawara", and it receives its blood supply by way of the AV node artery, a branch that usually arises from the right coronary artery

• AV bundle: Also known as the "Bundle of His", this thick bundle of specialized myocardial cells is found in the interventricular septum. It divides into the right and left bundle branches

• Bundle branches: Sometimes known as the "crura" of the Bundle of His, these two divisions of the AV bundle help distribute the electrical stimuli to the ventricular walls. The right bundle branch has an extension that crosses the lumen of the right ventricle, from the base of the anterior papillary muscle to the interventricular septum, forming a cord of tissue known as the "moderator band" or "septomarginal trabecula"

• Purkinje Fibers: These thin fibers are the terminal end of the conduction system of the heart and finish the distribution of the electrical stimuli to all parts of the ventricular walls

Although the structural components of the conduction system of the heart were known, it was Dr. Sunao Tawara (1873-1952) who discovered the AV node and described the connections between the components of what he called the "Reitzleitungssytem" (conduction system) of the heart.

Click on the image for a larger version. Image modified from the original: "3D Human Anatomy: Regional Edition DVD-ROM." Courtesy of Primal Pictures