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6.4: Anatomy of the Nails

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    Anatomy of the Nails

    The nail bed is a specialized structure of the epidermis that is found at the tips of our fingers and toes. The nail body is formed on the nail bed, and protects the tips of our fingers and toes as they are the farthest extremities and the parts of the body that experience the maximum mechanical stress. In addition, the nail body forms a back-support for picking up small objects with the fingers. The nail body is composed of densely packed dead keratinocytes. The epidermis in this part of the body has evolved a specialized structure upon which nails can form. The nail body forms at the nail root, which has a matrix of proliferating cells from the stratum basale that enables the nail to grow continuously. The lateral nail fold overlaps the nail on the sides, helping to anchor the nail body. The nail fold that meets the proximal end of the nail body forms the nail cuticle, also called the eponychium. The nail bed is rich in blood vessels, making it appear pink, except at the base, where a thick layer of epithelium over the nail matrix forms a crescent-shaped region called the lunula (the “little moon”). The area beneath the free edge of the nail, furthest from the cuticle, is called the hyponychium. It consists of a thickened layer of stratum corneum.

    These two images show anatomy of the fingernail region. The top image shows a dorsal view of a finger. The proximal nail fold is the part underneath where the skin of the finger connects with the edge of the nail. The eponychium is a thin, pink layer between the white proximal edge of the nail (the lunula), and the edge of the finger skin. The lunula appears as a crescent-shaped white area at the proximal edge of the pink-shaded nail. The lateral nail folds are where the sides of the nail contact the finger skin. The distal edge of the nail is white and is called the free edge. An arrow indicates that the nail grows distally out from the proximal nail fold. The lower image shows a lateral view of the nail bed anatomy. In this view, one can see how the edge of the nail is located just proximal to the nail fold. This end of the nail, from which the nail grows, is called the nail root.

    Above: Illustrated diagram of the anatomy of a fingernail.

    Microscopic image of a cross section of a nail.

    Above: Microscopic images of a fingernail cross section. The top image is magnified by 4x and the bottom image is the same tissue sample as the top image centered on the nail root and nail matrix magnified by 20x.


    This page titled 6.4: Anatomy of the Nails is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Rosanna Hartline.

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