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Pterygopalatine Fossa



The pterygopalatine fossa, which is also known as the sphenopalatine fossa, is a bony space within the skull that is created by opposing anatomical structures of different shapes and sizes. It has a funnel-like appearance, with the base narrowing towards the cranium and the opening widening towards the oral cavity. In this article, the fosse's borders, openings, contents, arterial and vascular supply as well as innervation will be discussed.


The infratemporal surface of the maxilla serves as the anterior wall for the fossa, while the posterior wall is formed by the pterygoid process of the sphenoid bone. Cranially the posterior wall of the bony orbit resides together with the inferior surface of the sphenoid bone, as well as the orbital plate of the palatine bone which both contribute to the orbit. In addition, they also contribute to the ceiling of the cavity.

Pterygopalatine fossa - lateral-left view

Caudally, the pyramidal process of the palatine bone limits the extension of the fossa. There is no lateral wall but a direct communication between the pterygopalatine fossa and the pterygomaxillary fissure. Medially, the third wall that is made up of part of the palatine bone; here sits the pyramidal process of the structure.


The pterygopalatine fossa has a great many openings that allow for various anatomical structures to enter, pass through and exit the cavity. The openings shall be listed according to the border in which they exist, save the anterior border, for it has none. Superiorly, the inferior orbital fissure can be seen, which connects the fossa to the posterior part of the bony orbit.

Inferior orbital fissure - ventral view

Inferiorly, the palatine canal communicates directly with the oral cavity. Laterally an unnamed opening joins the two fossae as mentioned above. Medially the sphenopalatine foramen allows the fossa to communicate with the nasal cavity.

Sphenopalatine foramen - medial view

Lastly, the posterior border has the most openings, including the pharyngeal canal which links up to the nasopharynx, the pterygoid canal and the foramen rotundum which is the fosse’s only link to the internal part of the cranium, specifically the middle cranial fossa.

Foramen rotundum - cranial view

Contents, Blood Supply and Innervation

There are two directions in which the contents of the pterygopalatine fossa may go. There are those structures that enter the fossa and those that leave it. In this way the main contents will be categorized and discussed. The structures that enter the fossa include the maxillary nerve via the foramen rotundum and the maxillary artery via the pterygomaxillary fissure.

Maxillary artery - lateral-left view

These two structures break up into their terminal branches once inside the fossa and form radiating neurovascular bundles. In turn the maxillary branches receive fibers from other nervous origins such as the facial nerve, which enter the fossa via the pterygoid canal.

Facial nerve - lateral-left view

The structures that leave the fossa include visceral nerve fibers that leave the pterygopalatine ganglion and enter the specific maxillary branches, the infraorbital and zygomatic nerves which leave the fossa via the inferior orbital fissure and the greater and lesser palatine nerves which descend through the palatine canal.

Pterygopalatine ganglion - lateral-left view

Also, the posterior and superior nasal nerves and the sphenopalatine artery pass through the sphenopalatine foramen in order to enter the nasal cavity. The posterior and superior alveolar nerves pass on into the pterygomandibular fissure which continues to the infratemporal fossa.

Sphenopalatine artery

Finally, the pharyngeal canal acts as an exit for the pharyngeal nerves and vessels. Venous drainage, which of course exits the fossa includes branches like:

  • the posterior superior alveolar veins
  • the pharyngeal vein
  • the descending palatine vein
  • the infraorbital vein
  • the sphenopalatine vein
  • the vein of the pterygoid canal
  • the inferior ophthalmic vein
  • the pterygoid plexus

It should be noted that the contents above, help supply each and every area of the fossa as they enter and exit the space.

Pterygoid plexus - lateral-left view



The borders of the pterygopalatine fossa are the following:

  • Anterior wall - maxilla
  • Posterior wall - Pterygoid process of sphenoid bone
  • Cranially - Posterior wall of orbit, inferior surface of sphenoid, orbital plate of palatine bone
  • Caudally - Pyramidal process of palatine bone
  • Medially - Palatine bone


The communications and foramina of the pterygopalatine fossa are the following:

  • Inferior orbital fissure
  • Palatine canal
  • Sphenopalatine foramen
  • Pharyngeal canal
  • Pterygoid canal
  • Foramen rotundum


The contents of the pterygopalatine fossa are the following:

  • Maxillary nerve
  • Maxillary artery
  • Facial nerve
  • Pterygopalatine ganglion
  • Infraorbital nerve and vein
  • Zygomatic nerve
  • Greater palatine nerve
  • Lesser palatine nerve
  • Posterior nasal nerve
  • Superior nasal nerve
  • Sphenopalatine artery and vein
  • Pharyngeal nerve
  • Pharyangeal artery and vein
  • Descending palatine vein
  • Vein of the pterygoid canal
  • Inferior ophthalmic vein
  • Pterygoid plexus
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Show references


  • Jovica Veljanovski and Sean Mutchnick: Pterygopalatine Fossa Jovicagram, accessed on 22/07/2014
  • Neil S. Norton, Ph.D. and Frank H. Netter, MD, Netter’s Head and Neck Anatomy for Dentistry, 2nd Edition, Elsevier Saunders, Chapter 10 Pterygopalatine Fossa, Page 249 to 264.
  • Frank H. Netter, Atlas der Anatomie, 5th Edition (Bilingual Edition: English and German), Saunders, Kapitel 1, Tafel 16.
  • The Pterygopalatine Fossa. accessed on 22/07/2014


  • Dr. Alexandra Sieroslawska


  • Pterygopalatine fossa - lateral-left view - Yousun Koh
  • Inferior orbital fissure - ventral view - Paul Kim
  • Sphenopalatine foramen - medial view - Yousun Koh
  • Foramen rotundum - cranial view - Yousun Koh
  • Maxillary artery - lateral-left view - Paul Kim
  • Facial nerve - lateral-left view - Yousun Koh
  • Pterygopalatine ganglion - lateral-left view - Paul Kim
  • Sphenopalatine artery - Paul Kim
  • Pterygoid plexus - lateral-left view - Yousun Koh
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