The mediastinum is an area found in the midline of the thoracic cavity, that is surrounded by the left and right pleural sacs. It is divided into the superior and inferior mediastinum, of which the latter is larger.
The inferior mediastinum is further divided into the anterior, middle and posterior mediastinum. Every compartment of the mediastinum contains many vital organs, vascular and neural structures that are closely related one to another.
Such a rich content of the mediastinum indicates its significance from the aspect of the anatomy.
Borders: first rib (superior) - T4 (inferior)
Content: esophagus, trachea, thymus; phrenic nerve, vagus nerve, left recurrent laryngeal nerve; superior vena cava, brachiocephalic veins, aortic arch, thoracic duct
|Anterior inferior mediastinum||
Borders: T4 (superior) - T9 (inferior); sternum (anterior) - pericardium (posterior)
Content: remnants of the thymus, lymph nodes
|Middle inferior mediastinum||
Borders: T4 (superior) - T9 (inferior); anterior aspect of pericardium (anterior) - posterior aspect of pericardium
Content: phrenic nerve, heart, pericardium, ascending aorta, pulmonary trunk, superior vena cava, pericardiacophrenic artery
|Posterior inferior mediastinum||
Borders: T4 (superior) - T12 (inferior); posterior aspect of pericardium (anterior) - spine (posterior)
Content: esophagus, thoracic aorta, azygos veins, hemiazygos veins, accessory hemiazygos veins, thoracic duct, cisterna chyli, vagus nerve, esophageal plexus, greater, lesser and least splanchnic nerves
|Clinical relations||Mediastinitis (inflammation of the structures within the mediastinum)|
The thoracic cavity houses three compartments: left and right pleural cavities and the mediastinum. The pleural cavities are placed in the lateral parts of the thorax, they contain the lungs and their associated structures. The mediastinum sits centrally, between the pleural cavities.
The mediastinum, or mediastinal cavity, is a visceral compartment of the thoracic cavity. It completely separates the two pleural cavities by being placed longitudinally between them in a median sagittal position. It extends superoinferiorly from the superior thoracic aperture to the diaphragm, anteroposteriorly from the sternum to the bodies of thoracic vertebrae, and laterally from the mediastinal pleura of the adjacent pleural cavities. The main mediastinal contents are the heart, esophagus, trachea, thoracic nerves and systemic blood vessels.
The mediastinum is divided into the superior mediastinum and inferior mediastinum by a transverse plane that extends from the sternal angle (manubriosternal junction), to the intervertebral disc between T4 and T5 vertebrae.
For more information about the mediastinal contents we encourage you to reinforce your knowledge with our video tutorial and quiz.
The superior mediastinum is a space bounded anteriorly by the manubrium of the sternum, and posteriorly by the bodies of T1-T4 vertebrae. Its superior border is an oblique plane extending from the jugular notch of the manubrium to the superior border of T1 vertebra. Whilst the inferior border is a transverse plane extending from the sternal angle to the T4-T5 intervertebral disc. The transverse plane separates the superior from the inferior mediastinum. Lastly, the lateral borders are the mediastinal surfaces of parietal pleura on each side.
The contents of the superior mediastinum includes many organs, vessels and nerves;
- Aortic arch
- Brachiocephalic trunk
- Left common carotid artery
- Left subclavian artery
- Internal thoracic arteries
- Superior vena cava
- Left superior intercostal vein
- Brachiocephalic veins
- Left superior intercostal vein
- Phrenic nerves
- Bagus nerves
- Left recurrent laryngeal branch of the left vagus nerve
- Thoracic duct
- Lymph nodes and vessels,
- Other small arteries, veins and nerves
We’ve got you covered with the anatomy of the structures found within the superior mediastinum. Whether you prefer to read, watch a video, or quiz yourself!
The inferior mediastinum extends from the inferior border of the superior mediastinum to the diaphragm. It is subdivided anterior-to-posterior into three spaces:
- Anterior mediastinum - posterior to the body of the sternum and anterior to the pericardium
- Middle mediastinum - bounded by the pericardium, which encloses the heart and origins of the great vessels
- Posterior mediastinum - posterior to the pericardium and anterior to the vertebrae
|Anterior mediastinum||Inferior portion of thymus
Mediastinal branches of internal thoracic vessels
|Middle mediastinum||Pericardial sac
Origins of great vessels: pulmonary trunk, ascending aorta, pulmonary veins, superior vena cava, inferior vena cava
Tracheal bifurcation and main bronchi
|Posterior mediastinum||Esophagus and esophageal plexus
Thoracic aorta and its branches
Azygos and hemiazygos venous systems
Thoracic splanchnic nerves
Learn everything about the inferior mediastinum contents in a more fun and engaging way with our articles, quizzes and video tutorials.
Lymphatics of the mediastinum
There are several groups of lymph nodes scattered within mediastinum. Most of the mediastinal organs drain into the thoracic duct. The interesting exception is the right side of the heart, which together with the right lung, right sides of head, neck and thorax, drains into the right lymphatic trunk. Learn everything about mediastinal lymphatics with this article, video tutorial and quiz.