Zippel, K. C., H. B. Lillywhite and C. R. J. Mladinich. Contribution of the vertebral artery to cerebral circulation in the rat snake Elaphe obsoleta. JOURNAL OF MORPHOLOGY. 238:39-51, 1998.

Blood supplying the brain in vertebrates is carried primarily by the carotid vasculature. In most mammals, cerebral blood flow is supplemented by the vertebral arteries, which anastomose with the carotids at the base of the brain. In other tetrapods, cerebral blood is generally believed to be supplied exclusively by the carotid vasculature, and the vertebral arteries are usually described as disappearing into the dorsal musculature between the heart and head. There have been several reports of a vertebral artery connection with the cephalic vasculature in snakes. We measured regional blood flows using fluorescently labeled microspheres and demonstrated that the vertebral artery contributes a small but significant fraction of cerebral blood flow (similar to 13% of total) in the rat snake Elaphe obsoleta. Vascular casts of the anterior vessels revealed that the vertebral artery connection is indirect, through multiple anastomoses with the inferior spinal artery, which connects with the carotid vasculature near the base of the skull. Using digital subtraction angiography, fluoroscopy, and direct observations of flow in isolated vessels, we confirmed that blood in the inferior spinal artery flows craniad from a point anterior to the vertebral artery connections. Such collateral blood supply could potentially contribute to the maintenance of cerebral circulation during circumstances when craniad blood flow is compromised, e.g., during the gravitational stress of climbing.