OBJECTIVE: Cadaveric studies of the blood supply to the human cervical sympathetic chain and ganglia are lacking in the English literature. This study seeks to elucidate the gross blood supply of the cervical sympathetic chain so as to avoid surgical disruption of these vessels and thus decrease the risk of vascular insufficieny and subsequent dysfunction of thoracolumbar autonomic outflow to the head and neck. METHODS: Twelve (24 sides) human cadavers (8 male and 4 female) were dissected and their brachiocephalic veins, internal carotid arteries, and vertebral arteries cannulated. Red and blue latex was injected into the arteries and veins respectively. Dissection of the neck was carefully performed and the blood supply of the cervical sympathetic chain identified. RESULTS: The primary arterial supply to the sympathetic chain and ganglia were from superior to inferior the ascending pharyngeal, ascending cervical, thyrocervical trunk, and supreme intercostal arteries. The primary venous drainage of these structures was primarily by direct posterior branches into the internal jugular vein. In addition, we have found an area at the junction of the lower two-thirds and upper one-third of the neck, which is deficient in blood supply (both arterial and venous). CONCLUSIONS: Although sympathetic injury is a rare consequence of cervical operations, the current data should be useful to the surgeon who operates in the cervical region so as to avoid potential complications from disruption of the primary blood supply of the cervical sympathetic chain and ganglia. Also, future techniques of selective iatrogenic disruption of the blood supply to portions of these structures e.g. stellate ganglion may be helpful in treating entities such as hyperhydrosis.