(redirected from macroscopic anatomy)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Wikipedia.


(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 classificationclassification,
in biology, the systematic categorization of organisms into a coherent scheme. The original purpose of biological classification, or systematics, was to organize the vast number of known plants and animals into categories that could be named, remembered, and
..... Click the link for more information.
 of both plants and animals. Embryology (see embryoembryo
, name for the developing young of an animal or plant. In its widest definition, the embryo is the young from the moment of fertilization until it has become structurally complete and able to survive as a separate organism.
..... Click the link for more information.
) deals with developing plants or animals until hatching or birth (or germination, in plants); cell biology covers the internal anatomy of the cell, while histologyhistology
, study of the groups of specialized cells called tissues that are found in most multicellular plants and animals. Histologists study the organization of tissues at all levels, from the whole organ down to the molecular components of cells.
..... Click the link for more information.
 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 epitheliumepithelium
, sheet of tissue that covers or lines the external and internal body surfaces. The epithelium is closely packed, has little intercellular material, and is lacking in blood vessels.
..... Click the link for more information.
), muscular tissue (see musclemuscle,
the contractile tissue that effects the movement of and within the body. Muscle tissue in the higher animals is classified as striated, smooth, or cardiac, according to its structure and function.
..... Click the link for more information.
), connective tissueconnective tissue,
supportive tissue widely distributed in the body, characterized by large amounts of intercellular substance and relatively few cells. The intercellular material, or matrix, is produced by the cells and gives the tissue its particular character.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and nervous tissue (see nervous systemnervous system,
network of specialized tissue that controls actions and reactions of the body and its adjustment to the environment. Virtually all members of the animal kingdom have at least a rudimentary nervous system.
..... Click the link for more information.
). 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 skeletonskeleton,
in anatomy, the stiff supportive framework of the body. The two basic types of skeleton found among animals are the exoskeleton and the endoskeleton. The shell of the clam is an exoskeleton composed primarily of calcium carbonate.
..... Click the link for more information.
), muscular system, cutaneous system (see skinskin,
the flexible tissue (integument) enclosing the body of vertebrate animals. In humans and other mammals, the skin operates a complex organ of numerous structures (sometimes called the integumentary system) serving vital protective and metabolic functions.
..... Click the link for more information.
), circulatory system (including the lymphatic systemlymphatic system
, network of vessels carrying lymph, or tissue-cleansing fluid, from the tissues into the veins of the circulatory system. The lymphatic system functions along with the circulatory system in absorbing nutrients from the small intestines.
..... Click the link for more information.
), respiratory system (see respirationrespiration,
process by which an organism exchanges gases with its environment. The term now refers to the overall process by which oxygen is abstracted from air and is transported to the cells for the oxidation of organic molecules while carbon dioxide (CO2
..... Click the link for more information.
), digestive systemdigestive system,
in the animal kingdom, a group of organs functioning in digestion and assimilation of food and elimination of wastes. Virtually all animals have a digestive system. In the vertebrates (phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata) the digestive system is very complex.
..... Click the link for more information.
, reproductive systemreproductive system,
in animals, the anatomical organs concerned with production of offspring. In humans and other mammals the female reproductive system produces the female reproductive cells (the eggs, or ova) and contains an organ in which development of the fetus takes
..... Click the link for more information.
, urinary systemurinary system,
group of organs of the body concerned with excretion of urine, that is, water and the waste products of metabolism. In humans, the kidneys are two small organs situated near the vertebral column at the small of the back, the left lying somewhat higher than the
..... Click the link for more information.
, and endocrine systemendocrine system
, body control system composed of a group of glands that maintain a stable internal environment by producing chemical regulatory substances called hormones.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Little was known about human anatomy in ancient times because dissection, even of corpses, was widely forbidden. In the 2d cent., GalenGalen
, c.130–c.200, physician and writer, b. Pergamum, of Greek parents. After study in Greece and Asia Minor and at Alexandria, he returned to Pergamum, where he served as physician to the gladiatorial school. He resided chiefly in Rome from c.162.
..... Click the link for more information.
, 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 VesaliusVesalius, Andreas
, 1514–64, Flemish anatomist. He made many discoveries in anatomy and became noted as professor of anatomy at the Univ. of Padua. There he produced his chief work, De humani corporis fabrica
..... Click the link for more information.
, William HarveyHarvey, William,
1578–1657, English physician considered by many to have laid the foundation of modern medicine, b. Folkestone, studied at Cambridge, M.D. Univ. of Padua, 1602. Returning to London, he became a physician of St.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and John HunterHunter, John,
1728–93, Scottish anatomist and surgeon, studied under his brother, William Hunter. A pioneer in comparative anatomy and morphology who is sometimes called the father of modern surgery, he made many valuable investigations and introduced several surgical
..... Click the link for more information.
. Various modern technologies have significantly refined the study of anatomy: X raysX ray,
invisible, highly penetrating electromagnetic radiation of much shorter wavelength (higher frequency) than visible light. The wavelength range for X rays is from about 10−8 m to about 10−11
..... Click the link for more information.
, CAT scansCAT scan
[computerized axial tomography], X-ray technique that allows relatively safe, painless, and rapid diagnosis in previously inaccessible areas of the body; also called CT scan.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and magnetic resonancemagnetic resonance,
in physics and chemistry, phenomenon produced by simultaneously applying a steady magnetic field and electromagnetic radiation (usually radio waves) to a sample of atoms and then adjusting the frequency of the radiation and the strength of the magnetic field
..... Click the link for more information.
 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the science of the forms and structures of separate organs, systems, and the total organism; a branch of morphology. Two branches of anatomy are distinguished: animal anatomy (zootomy), which includes human anatomy (anthropotomy), and plant anatomy. The term “anatomy” is usually used to mean “anthropotomy.” The principal method used in the study of anatomy is dissection. Comparative animal anatomy is the study of the similarities and differences in animal structures. This study helps to clarify the kinship bonds between various groups of animals, as well as their origins in the process of evolution.

Human anatomy Some information about the structure of the human body was obtained in ancient Egypt in connection with the experience of embalming corpses. There was also information on human anatomy in the medical almanac of the Chinese emperor Huang T’i (circa 3000 B.C.). The Indian Vedas (first millennium B.C.) indicated that man has 500 muscles, 90 tendons, 900 ligaments, 300 bones, 107 joints, 24 nerves, nine organs, and 400 blood vessels with 700 ramifications. Aristotle, who was one of the founders of the science of anatomy, pointed out in connection with his studies of animal anatomy the difference between tendons and nerves, and he introduced the term “aorta.” Representatives of the Alexandrian medical school (third century B.C.) performed autopsies on corpses and vivisections of criminals condemned to death. They discovered the diaphragm, studied the skeleton and viscera, and made observations about the lymphatics, nerves, heart valves, meninges, and so forth. C. Galen (second century), basing his work on earlier data, often unverified, on dissections of animal corpses, systematized anatomic information. His notions about anatomy served as the basis of medicine for almost 1,500 years because the church in the Middle Ages forbade dissection of corpses and the study of anatomy.

From the ninth through the 12th century anatomy was studied in the Near East by al-Razi (Rhazes), ibn-Rushd (Averroes), and ibn Sina (Avicenna). The flowering of science and art during the Renaissance was accompanied by the development of anatomical research. The basic positions of C. Galen’s teachings were reexamined and the basis was laid for the development of the study of anatomy as it is known today. In the 16th century Leonardo da Vinci, A. Vesalius, G. Fallopio, B. Eustachio, and others obtained the first systematic data on the structures of various organs of the human body. Anatomic investigations facilitated or lay at the base of some of the greatest discoveries in biology. The discovery of blood circulation in the body by W. Harvey in 1628 was a turning point in the study of the circulatory system. The description of the lymphatic vessels of the mesentery by the Italian anatomist G. Aselli aided further development in the study of the lymphatic system. In 1661, M. Malpighi discovered circulation in the capillaries, confirming the unity of the arterial and venous portions of the circulatory channel. A Frenchman named M. F. X. Bichat (18th century) laid the basis for the study of tissues and established the foundations for the development of histology, the science of the microscopic structures of tissues and organs. G. Cuvier correlated numerous data on comparative animal anatomy and paleontology; this made possible the establishment of the principle of correlation in the development of organs. The discovery by M. Schleiden (1838) and T. Schwann (1839) of the cell as the structural unit of tissues in animals and plants was evidence of the unity of the organic world and fostered improvement in the methodology of microscopic anatomy. Cell theory later found broad application in the development of pathological anatomy by R. Virchow. In discovering the law of hereditary transmission of characteristics, G. Mendel (1865) laid the basis for genetic study of the mechanisms of formative processes. The theory of evolution developed by C. Darwin assured the establishment of the evolutionary trend in the science of anatomy as well.

The first data about anatomic research in Russia appeared in the 17th century, when an abridgment ot A. Vesa-lius’ work On the Structure of the Human Body was translated into Russian by E. Slavinetskii. Dissections of corpses were first performed in Russia in the 18th century on the grounds of a Moscow hospital. The first Russian anatomist was A. P. Protasov (18th century). M. I. Shein and later N. M. Ambodik-Maksimovich laid the foundations of Russian anatomical terminology. The most important investigations in Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries were done by P. A. Zagorskii, I. V. Buial’skii, P. F. Lesgaft, D. N. Zernov, M. A. Tikhomirov, and F. A. Stefanis.

As the study of anatomy developed, a number of disciplines were differentiated within it: osteology, the study of bones; syndesmology, the study of the various types of connections between skeletal parts; myology, the study of muscles; splanchnology, the study of the internal organs that make up the digestive, respiratory, and urogenital systems; angiology, the study of the blood circulation and lymphatic systems; neurology, the study of the central and peripheral nervous systems; and esthesiology, the study of the sense organs. An important, rapidly developing branch of anatomy is the study of the structure of the endocrine system. All of these branches constitute systematic, or descriptive, anatomy.

Topographic anatomy, which has practical importance, especially in surgery, is concerned with the description of the locations and forms of organs according to the zones in the human body and with their placement in relation to each other and to adjacent blood vessels and nerves. A school of Russian topographic anatomists was founded by N. I. Pirogov. Comparative anatomy studies the basic stages in the evolution of animal and human organisms. Plastic anatomy studies the characteristics of the external shape of the human body and determines its proportions; it is thus of great importance in the graphic arts. Functional anatomy delineates the mutual connections between the structural features of organs and systems of the human body and the nature of their functioning; it studies the processes in the formation of the shapes and structures of organs during the course of individual development. Establishment of the extremes of individual variation is very important in practical medicine. The conduct of anatomical research in fields of anatomy which border on other sciences (such as biochemistry, biophysics, genetics, and physiology) makes possible the discovery of new principles of the structure of the human body. Pathological anatomy, which studies the structural changes of organs and tissues in the human body which are caused by the development of the pathological process, has been a separate, independent branch of anatomy since the time of G. B. Morgagni (18th century).

Anatomic research in the USSR is conducted by the collectives of more than 100 departments of anatomy in medical institutes and universities. The Institute of Human Morphology studies the living matter of the human organism at various levels of organization. The anatomy of the brain is being intensively studied at the Brain Institute of the Academy of Medical Sciences of the USSR. V. P. Vorob’ev, D. A. Zhdanov, V. N. Ternovskii, M. G. Prives, V. N. Tonkov, V. N. Shevkunenko, I. N. Filimonov, and others have made great contributions to the development of the study of anatomy in the USSR. Since 1922 anatomists in the USSR have been united in the All-Union Scientific Society of Anatomists, Histologists, and Embryologists. The anatomic works which are best known outside the USSR are those of C. M. Goss and H. F. Bennet (USA); A. Delmas (France); and W. Bargmann (German Democratic Republic). Bulgarian anatomists (D. V. Kadanov, G. P. Gylybov, and others) are conducting neuromorphologic investigations. In Hungary certain aspects of the functional anatomy of the lymphatic system are being developed (J. Rusznyák) and a complex study of the structures of the nervous and endocrine systems is being conducted (F. Kiss, J. Szentágotai). Anthropologic studies are being done in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Do Xuan Hop).

In addition to autopsy, anatomic research makes much use of morphometry, cinematography, X ray, and various methods of histologic and biochemical analysis.

An international organization, the International Anatomical Congress, has been holding international federated congresses since 1905. The national associations of anatomists of a number of countries also organize and conduct conventions, conferences, and symposia. The most popular are the conventions of anatomists, histologists, and embryologists in the USSR, of the anatomic society in the German Democratic Republic, and of anatomists and histologists in Bulgaria.

Results of anatomic research are published in the journals Arkhiv anatomii, gistologii i embriologii (Archives of Anatomy, Histology, and Embryology; Moscow-Leningrad, since 1916), Anatomischer Anzeiger (The Anatomical Informer; Jena, since 1886), Acta Anatomica (Basel, since 1945), Anatomical Record (Philadelphia, since 1906), American Journal of Anatomy (Baltimore, since 1901), and Folia Morphologica (Warsaw, since 1929).


Gerlovin, E. Sh. “O rabote Vsesoiuznogo nauchnogo obshchestva anatomov, gistologov i embriologov v 1955–1958.” Arkhiv anatomii, gistologii i embriologii, 1959, vol. 37, issue 10.
Zhdanov, D. A. “50 let sovetskoi anatomii i meditsina.” Arkhiv anatomii, gistologii i embriologii, 1967, no. 53.
Tonkov, V. N. Uchebnik normal’noi anatomii cheloveka, 6th ed. Leningrad, 1962.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A branch of morphology dealing with the structure of animals and plants.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. the science concerned with the physical structure of animals and plants
2. the physical structure of an animal or plant or any of its parts
3. a book or treatise on this subject
4. dissection of an animal or plant
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005