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Lines of Zahn: Feature of Arterial Thrombus

All about Lines of Zahn in arterial thrombus: introduction to thrombus, types, location of Lines of Zahn, its causes, microscopic structures.


A thrombus is a clotted mass of blood that forms in a vessel and remains there. It can occur anywhere in the cardiovascular system. Unlike thrombus, embolus travels from the site where if formed to another location in the body. Both thrombi and emboli can block the flow of blood in that location depriving body tissues of normal blood flow and oxygen.

On the basis of location, thrombi are of four types. They are mural thrombi, arterial thrombi (with lines of Zahn), venous thrombi, and postmortem thrombi.

Lines of Zahn in Arterial Thrombus

Lines of Zahn are the alternating bands of white and dark materials, characteristically seen in arterial thrombi. They are less common or apparent in veins or smaller arteries because of less constant blood flow. So, lines of Zahn are particularly seen when formed in the chambers of the heart or aorta due to turbulent blood flow. Turbulent blood flow increases platelet contact with the vessel/heart wall and increases the chance of activation.  

‘Lines of Zahn’ is the eponym of German-Swiss pathologist Friedrich Wilhelm Zahn. Another popular medical condition ‘Zahn Infarct’ is also named after him.


Microscopic Structure

Lines of Zahn are alternating layers of white and dark in the arterial thrombus. The white layers consist of platelets and fibrin. Similarly, the dark bands are formed by red blood cells (RBCs). The laminated appearance of the lines at a site of rapid blood flow implies thrombosis happened before death.

Causes of thrombi with Lines of Zahn

  • Endothelial damage: includes hemodynamic stress, normal wear and tear of blood vessels over time, hypertension, atherosclerosis
  • Flow abnormalities in arteries: includes a reduction in the speed of blood flow due to cardiac failure and myocardial infarction, increased viscosity of the blood
  • Blood hypercoagulation: as in kidney failure, intake of birth control pills, tumor, chronic diseases like tuberculosis.

Significance of Lines of Zahn

The most important clinical significance of Lines of Zahn is that it is a distinguishing marker between antemortem and postmortem thrombi formation. Their occurrence implies thrombosis at a site of rapid blood flow that happened before death (antemortem).

Another clinical significance of Lines of Zahn is its presence in the arterial thrombus. Hence, it helps the clinicians to differentiate venous thrombus from arterial thrombus. It is not helpful to differentiate a recent thrombus from the old one. For that, other features like recanalization and organization should be analyzed.

Sequelae of thrombosis

The pathological consequences of the thrombosis or the complications of thrombosis are either of the following processes.

  • Resolution
  • Organization
  • Recanalization
  • Propagation
  • Infarction

Important Question in Medical Exam

Lines of Zahn are the characteristic features of which of the following thrombus?

  1. Venous Thrombi
  2. Mural Thrombi
  3. Arterial Thrombi
  4. Postmortem Thrombi

The correct answer is C. Arterial Thrombi.

Venous thrombi are occlusive in nature. Although there is an amorphous mass of RBCs enmeshed in platelets and fibrin, venous thrombi don’t have organized Lines of Zahn. They are also termed ‘Red or Stasis Thrombi’.

Mural thrombi are attached to the wall of the aortic lumen or the wall of the heart chambers.

Postmortem thrombus can develop after death and are not attached to the vessel walls (all other thrombi are firmly attached to the wall of the blood vessels).


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