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Anatomy of the nail unit and the nail biopsy.

The nail unit is the largest and a rather complex skin appendage. It is located on the dorsal aspect of the tips of fingers and toes and has important protective and sensory functions. Development begins in utero between weeks 7 and 8 and is fully formed at birth. For its correct development, a great number of signals are necessary. Anatomically, it consists of 4 epithelial components: the matrix that forms the nail plate; the nail bed that firmly attaches the plate to the distal phalanx; the hyponychium that forms a natural barrier at the physiological point of separation of the nail from the bed; and the eponychium that represents the undersurface of the proximal nail fold which is responsible for the formation of the cuticle. The connective tissue components of the matrix and nail bed dermis are located between the corresponding epithelia and the bone of the distal phalanx. Characteristics of the connective tissue include: a morphogenetic potency for the regeneration of their epithelia; the lateral and proximal nail folds form a distally open frame for the growing nail; and the tip of the digit has rich sensible and sensory innervation. The blood supply is provided by the paired volar and dorsal digital arteries. Veins and lymphatic vessels are less well defined. The microscopic anatomy varies from nail subregion to subregion. Several different biopsy techniques are available for the histopathological evaluation of nail alterations.

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