Branchial Apparatus Made Easy

Synonym: Pharyngeal apparatus

Branchial (resembling fish gills) apparatus is like a sandwich – mesoderm and neural crest cells (branchial arch) between opposing outer ectoderm (cleft or groove) and inner endoderm (pouch). They develop around the pharyngeal foregut and are wedged between the developing heart and brain. Note that the pharyngeal arches develop in a rostral to caudal sequence.

pharyngeal apparatus

  • Each branchial arch is supplied by its numerical corresponding aortic arch and a cranial nerve which doesn’t correspond numerically.
  • 5th Pharyngeal arch doesn’t exist in humans (exists only transiently during embryogenesis)
  • Clefts do not contribute to the adult structure, except for the 1st which forms external acoustic meatus.
  • Pouches forms several important structures of head and neck.

branchial apparatus embryology

Derivatives of Pharyngeal or Branchial Apparatus

Pharyngeal groovePharyngeal archPharyngeal pouch
EctodermMesodermNeural crestCranial NervesArteriesEndoderm
1stExternal Auditory Meatus epithelial liningMuscles of mastication, Mylohyoid, Anterior belly of Digastric, Tensor –tympani and –palatini


Hillocks of His: 1 (Tragus), 2 (helical crus) and 3 (helix)

Meckel’s cartilage: Malleus except manubrium, Stapes except long process and lenticular process, Anterior malleal ligament, Sphenomandibular ligament, MandibleCN V3 (Mandibular division of Trigeminal nerve)Maxillary arteryAuditory tube, Middle ear cavity  and inner layer of tympanic membrane epithelial lining
Also known as Mandibular arch.
2ndObliteratedMuslces of facial expression, Stapedius, Stylohyoid, Posterior belly of digastric muscle


Hillocks of His: 4 (antihelix crus), 5 (scapha), 6 (lobule)

Reichert’s cartilage: manubrium of malleus, long process and lenticular process of the incus, stapes (except vestibular part of footplate), styloid process, stylohyoid ligament, lesser cornu and upper half of hyoidCN VII (Facial nerve)Stapedial arteryTonisllar fossa and Crypts of palatine tonsil
Also known as Hyoid arch.
3rdObliteratedStylopharyngeus, Superior and middle constrictors of pharynxGreater horn and lower body of hyoidCN IX (Glossopharyngeal nerve)Common and Internal carotid arteriesInferior parathyroid gland and Thymus
4thObliteratedMuscles of soft palate (except tensor veli palatini), Muscles of

the pharynx (except stylopharyngeus)

Cricothyroid, Inferior pharyngeal constrictor (Cricopharyngeus), Laryngeal

Cartilages (thyroid and cuneiform)

NoneCN X – Superior laryngeal nerveAorta (left) and Subclavian artery (right)Parafollicular “C” cells of thyroid (Neural crest cell migration into ultimobranchial body) and Superior parathyroid gland
6thAbsentLaryngeal cartilages (Cricoid, arytenoid, corniculate), Intrinsic muscles of larynx (except cricothyroid), Upper muscles of esophagusNoneCN X – Recurrent laryngeal nerveDuctus arteriosus and pulmonary arteryAbsent

branchial apparatus derivatives

Clinical Correlate

1. First Arch Syndrome:

  • Cause: Lack of migration of neural crest cells into pharyngeal arch I
  • Defect: Defective development of facial bones
  • Example: Treacher-Collins syndrome (mandibulofacial dysostosis), Pierre-Robin syndrome

2.  Branchial Cyst Fistula:

  • Cause: Persistence of 2nd pharyngeal cleft/groove and 2nd pharyngeal pouch
  • Defect: Patent opening from internal tonsillar area, passes between internal and external carotid arteries and exits to skin anterior to sternocleidomastoid

3. Cervical sinus:

  • Cause: Persistence of pharyngeal grooves 2-4
  • Defect: Cyst anterior to the border of sternocleidomastoid

4. Digeorge syndrome:

  • Cause: Failure of differentiation of 3rd and 4th pharyngeal arch
  • Defect: Absent parathyroid glands (hypocalcemia), thymus (T cell immunodeficiency), Facial abnormalities similar to first arch syndrome

CATCH-22 Syndrome: Cardiac abnormalities, Abnormal facies, Thymic aplasia, Cleft palate, Hypocalcemia – from deletion of chomosome 22

5. Complex innervation pattern of tongue:

Tongue development

Tongue receives contributions from pharyngeal arches 1-4:

Anterior 2/3 (oral part) of tongue:

  • Forms from the median tongue bud and two distal tongue buds that develop in the floor of the pharynx associated with pharyngeal arch 1.
  • The distal tongue buds overgrow the median tongue bud and fuse in the midline, forming the median sulcus.
  • General sensation: Lingual branch of CN V3
  • Taste: Chorda tympani branch of CN VII

Posterior 1/3 (pharyngeal part) of tongue:

  • Forms from the copula and hypobranchial eminence that develop in the floor of the pharynx associated with pharyngeal arches 2–4.
  • The hypobranchial eminence overgrows the copula, thereby eliminating any contribution of pharyngeal arch 2 in the formation of the definitive adult tongue.
  • General sensation and taste: both from 3rd pharyngeal arch (CN IX)

Motor: Intrinsic and extrinsic muscles of tongue develop from occipital somites.

  • Motor innervation is through CN XII except palatoglossus which is innervated by CN X.

6. Development of Ear:

  • Branchial arch 1: Hillocks of His 1-3, Malleus, Incus, Tensor tympani (dampens sound)
  • Branchial arch 2: Hillocks of His 4-6, Stapes, Stapedius muscle (dampens sound)
  • Pharyngeal pouch 1: Middle ear cavity, Eustachian tube
  • Pharyngeal cleft 1: External auditory meatus
  • Branchial membrane 1 (between pouch and cleft): Tympanic membrane

7. Persistent stapedial artery:

The stapedial artery is transiently present in normal fetal development, connecting the branches of the future external carotid artery (ECA) to the internal carotid artery (ICA). Postembryonic persistence of the stapedial artery is rare. The stapedial artery may present as a pulsatile middle ear mass or may be found incidentally during middle ear surgery.

8. Preauricular sinus:

  • Cause: Abnormalities in the fusion of Hillocks of His
  • Defect: Pit like depression anterior to the crus of helix

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