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anatomy The word ‘anatomy’ derives from the Greek ana (up) and tome (a cutting) — hence ‘dissection’ — and it can be defined as the science of the structure of a body learned by dissection. The word can thus be applied to any structure, and we can talk about the anatomy of a plant, an insect, or even a machine, but here the term will be restricted to the structure of the human being.

Since earliest times, man may have been curious about the inner structure and workings of his body. Certainly the ancient Egyptians, in performing mummification, which involved preliminary removal of the viscera, would have gained considerable information about the organs of the chest and abdomen. However, the practitioners of this art were not medical, and there is little evidence that the doctors of those times derived any knowledge from this potentially rich source of anatomical material. The first recorded school of anatomy, where dissection of the human body was performed, was in Alexandria, and it flourished between the first century bc and the second century ad. Here two Greeks, Herophilus and Erasistratus, were celebrated for their experience of anatomy acquired by the dissection of condemned criminals, and they described many structures of the human body. Herophilus recognized the brain as the central organ of the nervous system and the seat of intelligence, thus reversing the view of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, of the primacy of the heart. Erasistratus observed the convolutions of the brain, noted that they were more marked in man than in lower animals, and associated this complexity with the higher intelligence of man. He also described the main parts of the brain, its coverings, and its cavities, the ventricles.

The most celebrated anatomist of the ancient world was undoubtedly Galen (129–216 ad). Born in Pergamon in Asia Minor, he studied in Smyrna and Alexandria before settling in Rome. He studied the human skeleton in Alexandria, but by then human dissection had virtually ceased, and much of his anatomy was based on animal studies.

Although Galen made many contributions to the subject, his work on bones and muscles being particularly good, and although many of the anatomical terms still in use today have their roots in his work, he also made errors and misinterpretations in his findings. In spite of this, his writings were regarded as definitive and beyond criticism over the next 1300 years. As a simple example, he described the kidneys as being lobulated, as they are in cattle, when the most casual glance would have shown that they are smooth in man. His statement that blood passed through pores between the left and right side of the heart again could have been refuted by simple observation. To make matters worse, continued copying of his writings and translations from one language to another led to further mistakes and faults creeping into his texts.

During the Middle Ages, human dissection was frowned upon by the Church. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, a revival of learning and, with it, of anatomical observation took place, especially in Italy and more particularly in the University of Padua. It was there that a revolution in anatomy took place with the publication, in 1543, by Andreas Vesalius, then aged only 28, of his book De Fabrica Corporis Humani (The Structure of the Human Body). This was based on his personal observations of his own human dissections, and of studies of the human skeleton. It contained magnificent illustrations, taken directly from his dissections, which could be used today in any modern textbook of anatomy.

Over the next centuries dissection of the human body became a standard part of the training of medical students. Indeed, it provided more or less the only scientific subject in the curriculum. However, because of religious and social attitudes surrounding the acquisition of bodies, and because of the unpleasant nature of dissection on unpreserved and often decomposing material, both anatomy and practitioners followed a somewhat chequered course. Anatomies were usually made in winter months, when the process of putrefaction was delayed, and the timing in England was also made to correspond with the assizes, when the bodies of executed criminals would be available. The legitimate sources of bodies — executed criminals and unclaimed corpses of paupers — were often inadequate for the increasing numbers of medical schools and of medical students. In Britain in particular, there was the scandal of the grave robbers (or ‘resurrectionists’ as they were called), who would dig up a body shortly after burial and sell it to an anatomy school. Relatives would sit up, armed, at night to protect the grave, or secure the graves with iron cages known as ‘mort-safes’. Sometimes, indeed, because of the chronic shortage of bodies, criminals would resort to murder to obtain their material, as in the infamous case of Burke and Hare in Edinburgh, who committed no less than 16 murders. Hare turned King's evidence, but Burke was hanged and afterwards publicly dissected. The scandal of this case undoubtedly led to the Anatomy Act of 1832, which licensed premises for dissection and made legal the provision of bodies from workhouses or elsewhere which were unclaimed. The anatomy school was responsible for the subsequent burial or cremation of the body according to the religion of the deceased. These regulations have gradually been replaced by the bequests of individuals of their bodies for anatomical purposes after death so that today, in the UK, virtually all bodies are received at anatomy departments by these means.

The techniques of anatomical studies were improved by the injection of coloured materials into blood vessels and lymphatics, and by methods of embalming and preserving the body. Formalin, discovered in 1868 by Von Hoffman, rapidly replaced other preservative agents, and remains the basis of modern preservation methods.

The development of simple microscopes in the seventeenth century founded the important science of microscopic anatomy. A pioneer in this field was Malpighi, whose extensive studies demonstrated the blood capillaries, thus finally establishing the anatomical basis of the circulation of the blood. He also described red blood corpuscles, and the structure of the skin and of many other tissues. The modern achromatic compound microscope was invented in 1878, and it was this instrument that added the extra dimension of the microscopic study of tissues to anatomical teaching.

With the advent of anaesthesia in 1846, and the introduction of antiseptic surgery as a result of the work of Lister in 1867, the vistas of surgery were greatly increased and, with them, the importance of a detailed knowledge of anatomy to the surgeon. To most students, however, anatomical teaching was something of a sterile test of memory, with emphasis on exact topographical details of the finer ramifications of nerves and blood vessels. In the twentieth century, particularly in its second half, the subject of anatomy became much wider and of a more practical nature. It is true to say that there is little interest today in ‘pure’ topographical anatomy. The detailed mapping of the human body is now fully documented and is to be found in the major textbooks. Indeed, the name of Gray's Anatomy, the standard text, has passed into popular parlance. However, in its various sub-divisions, the subject is thriving and the most important of these need some separate descriptions.

Topographic anatomy

In this, the body is studied by regions rather than by organs. This is of importance to the surgeon who exposes different planes after the skin incision and who, of course, must be perfectly familiar with structures as he explores the limbs and body cavities. Once the sole preserve of the surgeon, this field has acquired immense significance today for the radiologist (see below). In this respect cross-sectional topographic anatomy has come into its own.

Endoscopic anatomy

With the development of fibreoptic instruments, the body's tubes and cavities are now being explored in life. The detailed anatomy, for example, of the bronchial tree as seen through the bronchoscope is now of great importance. The introduction of laparoscopic and thoracoscopic instruments to explore and operate in the abdomen and thorax respectively has also opened new vistas as surgeons require to learn their anatomical landmarks through these approaches.

Surface (living) anatomy

From the practical point of view, every medical practitioner needs to know the detailed structure of the tissues beneath the skin of his patient. This forms an important part of the teaching of medical students, who can practise on themselves the identification of bones, landmarks, muscles, and arterial pulses; the palpation of normal structures through the intact skin; and the range of movement of the joints.

Radiological and imaging anatomy

The discovery by Röntgen of X-rays a century ago opened new vistas of anatomical study. This was enhanced by the development of radiological techniques to outline viscera, for example by injecting radio-opaque solutions into blood vessels (angiography) or by swallowing barium paste in order to demonstrate the oesophagus and stomach. More recently, other imaging techniques, which include ultrasonography, computerized tomography, and, in particular, magnetic resonance imaging, have provided unrivalled information of three-dimensional anatomy in the living body. Indeed, today, the radiologist must possess a detailed knowledge of anatomy that certainly rivals that of his surgical colleagues.

Embryological anatomy

The complex changes in the growing fetus are studied because much of adult anatomy can only be understood by appreciating its prenatal development. More and more has been learned about the underlying causes of the numerous congenital abnormalities that may arise as aberrations of normal development.

Microscopic anatomy

is of fundamental importance in the understanding of pathological changes, and has advanced with the introduction of electron microscopy, which enables the finest details of the cells to be studied at an ultramicroscopic magnification of several thousands.


the study of joint and limb movement, has developed into a subject of immense importance, together with biomechanics and orthotics (the study and use of artificial limbs). Here, research has an immediate application in orthopaedic practice, for the study of joint prostheses, the measurement of forces acting on the skeleton, and choosing the strength of materials utilized in reconstructive surgery; also for the analysis of the causes of failures of artificial joint implants, or of the materials used in internal fixation of fractures.


the study of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, forms an important part of the battery of approaches needed for neurobiological exploration, which today is complemented by physiology, pharmacology, molecular biology, and dynamic whole brain imaging.

All these topics are of obvious importance in the various expanding fields of medicine, but anatomy also impinges on other sciences. Examples are comparative anatomy — the comparison of structures in different animals and species; palaeoanatomy — the study of ancient remains — mainly, of course, of bones; and physical anthropology — the study of the different human races.

A recent development has been the appearance of a complete, sectioned human body appearing on the World Wide Web. The Visible Human Project presents transverse CT, MRI and cryosection images of two complete human cadavers, one male and one female, at an average of 1 mm intervals. These allow three-dimensional constructions to be ‘visualized’ from any angle on the computer screen.

Anatomy is thus a subject which encompasses a great variety of endeavours characterized by the study of the organization of the human body, and which impinges on many other sciences. In teaching anatomy to medical students, dissection of the cadaver remains fundamental, but the student also studies living, imaging, microscopic, and embryological anatomy. Anatomy forms an essential part of the scientific basis of medicine. All those concerned with disorders of the human body must start from a background of knowledge of its normal macroscopic and microscopic structure.

Harold Ellis

See also dissection; Gray, Henry.

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Anatomy is a branch of biology that deals with the structure of plants and animals. Comparative anatomy is a related field in which the structures of different animals are studied and compared. There are three main areas of anatomy: gross anatomy deals with organs and organ groupings called systems that are visible to the naked eye; cytology is the study of cell structure; and histology examines the structure of tissues. Microscopes are used in both cytology and histology to study cell and tissue structures.

History of anatomy

Attempts to understand the structure of living things go as far back as Aristotle (384322 b.c.), the famous Greek philosopher and biologist. His dissection (cutting into pieces to examine the parts) and study of animals and plants led to his formation of a classification system that was used by scientists for almost 2,000 years.

Some of the first human dissections were carried out by Greek anatomists and physicians Herophilus (late fourth century b.c.) and his younger follower Erasistratus. Herophilus made many anatomical studies of the brain. He distinguished the cerebrum (larger portion) from the cerebellum (smaller portion), suggested that the brain was the seat of intelligence, and identified and named several structures of the brain, some of which still carry the names he gave them. He also discovered that nerves originate in the brain and noted the difference between motor nerves (those concerned with motion) and sensory nerves (those related to sensation). Together with Erasistratus, Herophilus established the disciplines of anatomy and physiology (the science that deals with the function of the body's parts and organs).

In his studies of the heart and blood vessels, Erasistratus came very close to working out the circulatory system of the blood. He understood that the heart served as a pump and he studied and explained the function of the heart valves. Erasistratus theorized that the arteries and veins both spread from the heart but incorrectly believed that the arteries carried air instead of blood.

After Erasistratus's time, the dissection of human bodies to study their anatomy ended due to the pressure of public opinion. Egyptians believed that a body needed to remain whole to enter the afterlife, and they engaged in the practice of mummification (treating a body with preservatives for burial).

Important contributions to the science of anatomy were made by the last and most influential of the great ancient medical practitioners, Greek physician Claudius Galen (a.d. 131200). He expertly dissected and accurately observed all kinds of animals but sometimes mistakenly applied what he saw to the human body. Nevertheless, he was the first to observe that muscles work in opposing pairs: for every muscle that causes a joint to bend, there is an opposing muscle that restores the joint to its original position.

Through experiments, Galen observed and described two ground-breaking anatomical events: (1) paralysis resulting from the cutting of the spinal cord and (2) the process by which urine passes from the kidneys to the bladder. In his observations about the heart and blood vessels, however, Galen made critical errors that remained virtually unchallenged for 1,400 years. He mistakenly believed that blood was formed in the liver and was circulated throughout the body by the veins. When anatomical research stopped for many centuries, Galen's teachings remained the ultimate medical authority.

After human dissections resumed in the sixteenth century, the long-held teachings of Galen were overturned by the work of Flemish anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius (15141564). Vesalius, who founded modern scientific anatomy, noted obvious conflicts between what he saw in his dissections of the human body and what Galen had described. He reasoned that Galen's errors resulted from only having done animal dissections, which often did not apply to human anatomy.

In 1543, Vesalius published one of the most important books in medical history and the world's first textbook of anatomy, On the Structure of the Human Body. The book contains detailed anatomical descriptions of all parts of the human body, directions for carrying out dissections, and meticulously drawn illustrations. Vesalius believed that accurate, basic knowledge of the human body could only be gained by performing human dissections. In his book, he set forth an objective, scientific method of conducting medical research that was to become the foundation of anatomical research and education throughout the world.

The correct description of the circulation of blood was provided by English physician William Harvey (15781657). In the course of many experimental dissections, he established the existence of pulmonary circulation (blood flowing from heart to lungs to heart) and noted the one-way flow of blood. He was the first to discover that blood flows in a continuous circle from the heart to the arteries to the veins and back to the heart. Harvey published this radical new concept of blood circulation in 1628.

The discovery of capillaries (small blood vessels) by Italian anatomist Marcello Malpighi (16281694) in 1661 provided the factual evidence to confirm Harvey's theory of blood circulation. Malpighi discovered the capillariesthe tiny connecting links between the veins and arteriesusing the newly invented microscope.

The science of anatomy was further advanced by the work of English physicist Robert Hooke (16351703). His 1665 publication Micrographia describes the structures of insects, fossils, and plants in detail from his microscopic studies. While examining the porous structure of cork, Hooke coined the term "cells" to describe the tiny rectangular holes he observed. This led scientists to adopt the concept of cells as the unit

structures of tissues, which in turn led to the suggestion of cells as the building blocks of organs and to the discovery of the cell nucleus. A later theory proposing that all of the body's tissues are composed of cells was the basis for the science of cytology.

Histology, or the study of tissues (structured groups of specialized cells), began in earnest in the 1700s with the work of French scientist Xavier Bichat (17711802). Bichat found that organs were built up out of different types of simpler structures, and each of these simpler structures could occur in more than one organ. He further noted that different tissues have specific properties and are thereby vulnerable to tissue-specific diseases.

Until that time, general anatomy was a descriptive order, based upon obvious characteristics such as the location of organs. Bichat suggested adopting a systematic order for anatomy based upon structure and function. He specified 21 tissues (or systems) in the human body based on what he saw with his naked eye, distinguishing these different tissues by their composition and by the arrangement of their fibers. These include epithelial (skin and digestive), muscular, nervous, connective, and vascular (blood) types.

Histology began to take on its modern form with the introduction of cell theory in 1839. At that time tissues began to be understood not as the basic building blocks of living things but as unique systems of cells with their own stages of development within the embryo (early stage of an organism's growth before birth or hatching).

Modern anatomy

Anatomy today makes use of knowledge from many fields of science to explore and understand how the structure of an organism's cells, tissues, and organs relates to their function.

Human anatomy, a crucial element in the medical school curriculum, divides the body into separate functional systems. These consist of the skin, the muscles, the skeleton, the circulatory system (blood, blood vessels, and heart), the digestive system, the urinary system, the respiratory system (lungs and breathing), the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves), the endocrine system (glands and hormones), and the reproductive system.

[See also Circulatory system; Digestive system; Endocrine system; Muscular system; Nervous system; Reproductive system; Respiratory system; Skeletal system ]

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14. Anatomy

See also 49. BLOOD and BLOOD VESSELS ; 51. BODY, HUMAN ; 52. BONES ; 56. BRAIN ; 72. CELLS ; 132. EAR ; 148. EYES ; 149. FACIAL FEATURES ; 157. FEET and LEGS ; 161. FINGERS and TOES ; 194. HANDS ; 196. HEAD ; 199. HEART ; 291. NERVES ; 293. NOSE ; 370. SKIN ; 390. TEETH .

the study of the body and its parts. anatomist, n. anatomical, adj.
Obsolete, human anatomy.
the study concerned with the measurements of the proportions, size, and weight of the human body. anthropometrist, n. anthropometric, anthropometrical, adj.
Physiology, Rare. the labeling of the type of body structure by nonanthropometric means.
the anatomy of the human body. anthropotomist, n. anthropotomical, adj.
Physiology. the study of aponeuroses, membranes that can serve as muscle sheaths or as connectors between muscles and tendons.
the scientific description of the arterial system. arteriographic, arteriographical, adj.
a written work on the ligaments of the human body. desmographic, desmographical, adj.
the branch of anatomy and physiology that studies secretions and the secretory glands.
an abnormal physical condition characterized by extensive structural defects of the skeleton and by gross mental deficiency.
the description of the structure and function of the liver. hepatographic, hepatographical, adj.
the description of the structure and function of kidneys. heprographic, heprographical, adj.
a branch of anatomy that deals with the microscopic features of animal and plant tissues. Also called microscopical anatomy . histologist , n. histological, adj.
the scientific description of the larynx. laryngographic, laryngographical, adj.
microscopical anatomy
the measurement of muscular phenomena, such as the velocity and intensity of muscular contractions. myographic, adj.
1. the branch of anatomy that studies muscles and musculature.
2. the muscular makeup of an animal or anatomical unit. myologic, adj.
the scientific description of the organs of plants and animals. organographist, n. organographic, organographical, adj.
the branch of anatomy that studies the skeleton and bones. osteologist, n. osteologie, osteological, adj.
the study of pelvic structure. pelycologic, pelycological , adj.
the scientific description of the pharynx. pharyngographic, pharyngographical, adj.
1. an account of the structure and function of the lungs.
2. the recording of the activity of the lungs during respiration. pneumograph, n. pneumographic, pneumographical, adj.
1. a person who dissects cadavers for the purpose of anatomical demonstration.
2. a person who performs autopsies. prosectorial, adj.
the branch of anatomy that studies the viscera.
an anatomical treatise on or description of the joints and ligaments of the body.
1. the anatomy of the ligaments of the body.
2. the science or study of ligaments.
the condition of having a series of similar parts with the same spatial orientation, e.g. the ribs. syntropic, adj.
the joining of two or more bones by muscle.
1. the dissection of animals other than man.
2. the anatomy of animals. zootomist, n. zootomic, zootomical, adj.

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anatomy (ənăt´əmē), branch of biology concerned with the study of body structure of various organisms, including humans. Comparative anatomy is concerned with the structural differences of plant and animal forms. The study of similarities and differences in anatomical structures forms the basis for classification of both plants and animals. Embryology (see embryo) deals with developing plants or animals until hatching or birth (or germination, in plants); cell biology covers the internal anatomy of the cell, while histology is concerned with the study of aggregates of similarly specialized cells, called tissues. Related to anatomy is morphology, which involves comparative study of the corresponding organs in humans and animals. There are four major types of tissue present in the human body: epithelial tissue (see epithelium), muscular tissue (see muscle), connective tissue, and nervous tissue (see nervous system). Human anatomy is often studied by considering the individual systems that are composed of groups of tissues and organs; such systems include the skeletal system (see skeleton), muscular system, cutaneous system (see skin), circulatory system (including the lymphatic system), respiratory system (see respiration), digestive system, reproductive system, urinary system, and endocrine system. Little was known about human anatomy in ancient times because dissection, even of corpses, was widely forbidden. In the 2d cent., Galen, largely on the basis of animal dissection, made valuable contributions to the field. His work remained authoritative until the 14th and 15th cent., when a limited number of cadavers were made available to the medical schools. A better understanding of the science was soon reflected in the discoveries of Vesalius, William Harvey, and John Hunter. Various modern technologies have significantly refined the study of anatomy: X rays, CAT scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are only several of the tools used today to obtain clear, accurate representations of the inner human anatomy. In 1994, for the first time, a detailed three-dimensional map of an entire human being (an executed prisoner who volunteered his body) was made available worldwide via the Internet using data from thousands of photographs, CAT scans, and MRIs of tiny cross sections of the body.

See H. Gray, Gray's Anatomy (1987).

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anatomy Branch of biological science that studies the structure of an organism. The study of anatomy can be divided in several ways. On the basis of size, there is gross anatomy, which is studying structures with the naked eye; microscopic anatomy, studying finer detail with a light microscope; submicroscopic anatomy, studying even finer structural detail with an electron microscope; and molecular anatomy, studying with sophisticated instruments the molecular make-up of an organism. Microscopic and submicroscopic anatomy involve two closely related sciences: histology (tissues and structures) and cytology (cells). Anatomy can also be classified according to the type of organism studied, plant, invertebrate, vertebrate, or human anatomy. Comparative anatomy compares the structures of organisms. See also physiology

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a·nat·o·my / əˈnatəmē/ (abbr.: anat.) • n. (pl. -mies) the branch of science concerned with the bodily structure of humans, animals, and other living organisms, esp. as revealed by dissection and the separation of parts. ∎  the bodily structure of an organism: descriptions of the cat's anatomy and behavior. ∎ inf. , humorous a person's body: he left dusty handprints on his lady customers' anatomies. ∎ fig. a study of the structure or internal workings of something: Machiavelli's anatomy of the art of war.

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"anatomy." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . 21 Oct. 2017 <>.

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anatomy (science of) bodily structure XIV; †skeleton XVI; dissection. — F. anatomie — late L. anatomia — Gr. anatomíā, f. aná up, ANA- + *tom- cut (cf. -TOMY).
Also aphetic ATOMY1, etc. XVI. So anatomist XVI. — F. -iste or medL. *-ista, f. anatomizāre, whence anatomize XV.

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anatomy (ă-nat-ŏmi) n. the study of the structure of living organisms. In medicine it refers to the study of the form and gross structure of the various parts of the human body. See also cytology, histology, physiology.
anatomical (ană-tom-i-k'l) adj. —anatomist n.

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anatomy The study of the structure of living organisms, especially of their internal parts by means of dissection and microscopical examination. Compare morphology.

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anatomy The details of the structure of an organism, as revealed by dissection. The term is sometimes used synonymously with morphology.

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anatomyfumy, gloomy, plumy, rheumy, roomie, roomy, spumy •excuse-me • mushroomy • perfumy •Brummie, chummy, crumby, crummy, dummy, gummy, lumme, mummy, plummy, rummy, scrummy, scummy, slummy, tummy, yummy •academy • sodomy • blasphemy •infamy •bigamy, polygamy, trigamy •endogamy, exogamy, heterogamy, homogamy, misogamy, monogamy •hypergamy • alchemy • Ptolemy •anomie • antinomy •agronomy, astronomy, autonomy, bonhomie, Deuteronomy, economy, gastronomy, heteronomy, metonymy, physiognomy, taxonomy •thingummy • Laramie • sesame •blossomy •anatomy, atomy •hysterectomy, mastectomy, tonsillectomy, vasectomy •epitome •dichotomy, lobotomy, tracheotomy, trichotomy •colostomy • bosomy •squirmy, thermae, wormy •taxidermy

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