On the purported discovery of the bronchial circulation by Leonardo da Vinci

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Among modern physiologists and anatomists, there has been a nearly universal acceptance that Leonardo da Vinci was the first to identify the anatomy of the bronchial circulation. However, because of certain ambiguities in both his anatomic drawing that was supposed to have shown this circulation and the accompanying descriptive text, we questioned whether he really could have been the first to discover this small but important vasculature. To address this question, we set out to repeat Leonardo's dissections in the ox. We reasoned that perhaps the normally tiny bronchial vessels would be considerably more noticeable in this very large species. Our dissections, however, failed to provide any evidence that Leonardo's drawing was that of the bronchial circulation. Furthermore we observed a set of distinct small pulmonary veins to the left upper and right middle lobes that Leonardo, given his lack of understanding of the function of the lung and its circulation, could have easily mistaken for a separate circulation. We thus conclude that Leonardo da Vinci did not describe the anatomy of the bronchial circulation. We believe that the first person to clearly and unequivocally describe the anatomy of this circulation was the Dutch Professor of Anatomy and Botany, Frederich Ruysch.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1196-1201
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992


  • Frederich Ruysch
  • airway circulation
  • bronchial artery
  • pulmonary veins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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