A model of free tissue transfer: The rat epigastric free flap

Diogo Casal, Diogo Pais, Inês Iria, Eduarda Mota-Silva, Maria Angélica Almeida, Sara Alves, Cláudia Pen, Ana Farinho, Luís Mascarenhas-Lemos, José Ferreira-Silva, Mário Ferraz-Oliveira, Valentina Vassilenko, Paula A. Videira, João Erse de Goyri O'Neill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Free tissue transfer has been increasingly used in clinical practice since the 1970s, allowing reconstruction of complex and otherwise untreatable defects resulting from tumor extirpation, trauma, infections, malformations or burns. Free flaps are particularly useful for reconstructing highly complex anatomical regions, like those of the head and neck, the hand, the foot and the perineum. Moreover, basic and translational research in the area of free tissue transfer is of great clinical potential. Notwithstanding, surgical trainees and researchers are frequently deterred from using microsurgical models of tissue transfer, due to lack of information regarding the technical aspects involved in the operative procedures. The aim of this paper is to present the steps required to transfer a fasciocutaneous epigastric free flap to the neck in the rat. This flap is based on the superficial epigastric artery and vein, which originates from and drain into the femoral artery and vein, respectively. On average the caliber of the superficial epigastric vein is 0.6 to 0.8 mm, contrasting with the 0.3 to 0.5 mm of the superficial epigastric artery. Histologically, the flap is a composite block of tissues, containing skin (epidermis and dermis), a layer of fat tissue (panniculus adiposus), a layer of striated muscle (panniculus carnosus), and a layer of loose areolar tissue. Succinctly, the epigastric flap is raised on its pedicle vessels that are then anastomosed to the external jugular vein and to the carotid artery on the ventral surface of the rat's neck. According to our experience, this model guarantees the complete survival of approximately 70 to 80% of epigastric flaps transferred to the neck region. The flap can be evaluated whenever needed by visual inspection. Hence, the authors believe this is a good experimental model for microsurgical research and training.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere55281
JournalJournal of Visualized Experiments
Issue number119
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2017


  • Anatomy
  • Animal experimentation
  • Epigastric artery
  • Flap
  • Free flap
  • Free tissue transfer
  • Issue 119
  • Learning
  • Medicine
  • Physiology
  • Rats
  • Surgical procedures
  • Teaching


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