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Greater and lesser omentum

The omenta are the fused peritoneal folds that attach the abdominal organs with one another. There are two omenta:

  • the greater omentum
  • the lesser omentum

Both the greater and lesser omentum attach to the stomach and pass to other viscera within the abdominal cavity. This article will provide you with a brief introduction to peritoneum, its formations and cavities. Then it will describe the structure, function, relations, vasculature and development of the greater and lesser omentum.

Key Facts about the greater and lesser omentum
Omenta Double fold of peritoneum
Greater and lesser omenta
Greater omentum Largest of the omenta
Attached to the greater curvature of the stomach and the transverse colon
Policeman of the abdomen - protects other organs from inflamed or diseased organs
Lesser omentum Smaller of the omenta
Attached to the lesser curvature of the stomach and the liver
Divided into hepatogastric and hepatoduodenal ligaments
Forms anterior border of the epiploic foramen

Peritoneum

The abdominal wall and the abdominal organs are lined by a thin serous membrane called the peritoneum. Peritoneum consists of two layers; parietal peritoneum that covers the abdominal wall, and visceral peritoneum which covers the viscera. There is a potential space between these two layers called the peritoneal cavity.

Depending on how they are lined with visceral peritoneum, abdominal organs are divided into intraperitoneal or retroperitoneal. Intraperitoneal organs are completely wrapped in peritoneum. Their peritoneal covering is continuous with peritoneal folds called mesenteries. A mesentery suspends an intraperitoneal organ from the abdominal wall and carries its neurovascular bundle. Mesenteries are named according to the organ they suspend. For example, the mesentery of the transverse colon is called the transverse mesocolon. Retroperitoneal organs are located posteriorly to the peritoneum, and only their anterior surfaces are covered with peritoneum. They do not have a mesentery.

Retroperitoneal vs. intraperitoneal organ: Diagram

You can learn more about the peritoneum busing this collection of helpful anatomical resources.

Peritoneal cavity

As stated above, the peritoneal cavity is the space between the parietal and visceral peritoneal layers. It is divided into two spaces that communicate with each other; the greater sac and the lesser sac (omental bursa). The greater sac is the larger of the two spaces. It extends from the diaphragm to the pelvic cavity. It is divided into two compartments by the transverse mesocolon. 

The omental bursa, also called the lesser sac, is located posteriorly to the stomach and the lesser omentum (which will be discussed later), and anteriorly to the pancreas and duodenum. The function of the omental bursa is to allow unrestricted movement of the stomach. The greater sac and omental bursa communicate with each other through an opening called the omental foramen (also called the foramen omentale or epiploic foramen).
 
If you would like to learn about the more intrinsic details of the peritoneum and peritoneal cavity, you can use this series of anatomical resources.

Omenta

Omenta are the fused peritoneal folds that connect the stomach and duodenum with other abdominal organs.  There are two omenta, the greater omentum and the lesser omentum.

The greater omentum attaches the stomach to the transverse colon. The lesser omentum attaches the stomach and the duodenum to the liver. The omenta are derived from the embryological ventral and dorsal mesenteries. The greater omentum is derived from the dorsal mesentery, while the lesser omentum originates from the ventral mesentery.

Greater omentum

The greater omentum (or omentum majus), as its name suggests, is the largest of the two omenta. It is an apron like structure that extends from the greater curvature of the stomach and proximal duodenum. From here, it descends inferiorly over the transverse colon, jejunum and ileum. It then folds posteriorly and ascends to attach to the transverse mesocolon. The greater omentum contains large amounts of fat, which is highly variable between individuals.

Greater omentum anatomy

The greater omentum is supplied by the gastro-omental arteries that traverse between its layers. The right gastro-omental artery is a branch of the gastroduodenal artery. It runs through the layers of the greater omentum along the greater curvature of the stomach in a right to left direction.

The left gastroduodenal artery comes from the splenic artery. It runs in the greater omentum along the greater curvature of the stomach in a left to right direction. It forms an anastomosis with the right gastro-omental artery along the greater curvature. The veins follow the direction of the arteries in the greater omentum and  drain into the portal system. The left gastro-omental vein drains into the splenic vein, while the right gastro-omental vein drains to the superior mesenteric vein. The splenic and superior mesenteric veins unite posterior to the neck of the pancreas to form the hepatic portal vein, which carries venous blood from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver.

Function of the greater omentum

The greater omentum prevents the parietal and visceral peritoneum of the abdominal cavity from adhering to each other. For example, it prevents the parietal peritoneum lining the anterior abdominal wall from sticking to the visceral peritoneum of the ileum. It is very mobile, and moves around the abdomen with rhythmic, peristaltic motion of the intestines. It can also adhere to an inflamed organ, such as the appendix, to protect the healthy organs in the abdomen. Because of this, the greater omentum is sometimes referred to as the ‘policeman of the abdomen’.

Expand and test your knowledge about the greater omentum with our video tutorial and quiz.

Lesser omentum

The lesser omentum extends from the lesser curvature of the stomach and duodenal bulb (first part of duodenum) to the liver. One of its roles is to separate the greater sac from the omental bursa. The lesser omentum consists of two ligaments: medially located hepatogastric ligament, and laterally located hepatoduodenal ligament. The hepatogastric ligament connects the lesser curvature of the stomach to the visceral surface of the liver. The hepatoduodenal ligament passes from the duodenal bulb towards the visceral surface of the liver. It ends as a free border, forming the anterior margin of the omental foramen, The hepatoduodenal ligament carries the portal triad (hepatic portal vein, proper hepatic artery and bile duct). 

The lesser omentum transports the arteries for the lesser curvature of the stomach; the right and left gastric arteries. The left gastric artery (one of the three branches of the celiac trunk) passes into the lesser omentum and travels downwards along the lesser curvature of the stomach in a left to right direction. The right gastric artery branches from the proper hepatic artery (also a branch of the celiac trunk). It ascends along the lesser curvature of the stomach in a right to left direction to form an anastomosis with the left gastric artery. 

The right and left gastric veins follow the same direction as the arteries through the lesser omentum. They drain directly into the hepatic portal vein. The visceral branches of the vagus nerve and the hepatic and gastric lymph nodes also pass through the lesser omentum.

Embryology

The development of the greater omentum is quite a complex process and can be difficult to understand. During development, the stomach is suspended from the dorsal wall by the dorsal mesentery and from the ventral wall by the ventral mesentery.

As the organs grow, their position changes in the abdomen. The stomach rotates 90 degrees in its longitudinal axis so that it’s left side faces anteriorly and its right side faces posteriorly. As a result, the dorsal mesentery is displaced to the left and becomes folded, and the ventral mesentery is moved to the right. This rotation forms a separate space behind the stomach, the omental bursa. The stomach then rotates a second time, and here the cranial end moves inferiorly and the caudal end moves superiorly, giving the stomach its final position in the abdomen. This second rotation causes the double folded dorsal mesentery to move downwards, becoming the greater omentum. Later, it fuses anteriorly with a layer of peritoneum hanging from the lesser curvature of the stomach, and posteriorly with the mesentery of the transverse colon, to become the familiar apron like structure that is characteristic of the greater omentum.

The development of the lesser omentum is a little more straight-forward. It is formed from the ventral mesentery (which is derived from the septum transversarum). During rotations of the stomach, the ventral mesentery is moved to the right hand side and then superiorly. As the liver grows into the ventral mesentery, it divides it into the falciform ligament and the lesser omentum.

Learn more about the development of the digestive system by following this link.

Greater and lesser omentum: want to learn more about it?

Our engaging videos, interactive quizzes, in-depth articles and HD atlas are here to get you top results faster.

Sign up for your free Kenhub account today and join over 1,227,232 successful anatomy students.

“I would honestly say that Kenhub cut my study time in half.” – Read more. Kim Bengochea Kim Bengochea, Regis University, Denver

Show references

References:

  • Drake, R., Vogl, A.W., Mitchell, A.W.M. (2015). Gray’s Anatomy for Students, 3rd Edition, Churchill Livingston Elsevier
  • Moore, K.L., Agur, A.M.R., Dalley, A.F. (2015). Essential Clinical Anatomy, 5th Edition, Wolters Kluwer, pp. 130-135
  • Netter, F. (2014). Atlas of Human Anatomy, 6th Edition, Elsevier Saunders
  • Sadler, T.W. (2015). Langman’s Medical Embryology, 13th Edition, Wolters Kluwer Health, pp. 230-233
  • Standring, S. (2008). Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice, 14th Edition, Churchill Livingston Elsevier

Article, review and layout:

  • Niamh Gorman
  • Adrian Rad
  • Jana Vaskovic

Illustrations:

  • Retroperitoneal versus intraperitoneal organ - Paul Kim
  • Greater omentum anatomy - Irina Münstermann
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