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Spleen - want to learn more about it?

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Spleen

The spleen is the largest immunological organ in the body, lying intraperitoneally on the left side of the abdomen inferior to the diaphragm. Topographically speaking, the spleen can be found in the left hypochondriac region between the ninth and twelfth ribs, but healthy, non-enlarged spleens are not palpable.

 This organ also has several precise borders surrounding it and it is attached to various structures via ligaments, a specific one being the gastrosplenic ligament. Its main function are immune responses and phagocytosis.

This article will describe the anatomy of the spleen, as well as its functions and relevant clinical points.

Key facts about the spleen
Location Left hypochondrial region
Borders Stomach anteriorly, diaphragm posteriorly, splenic flexure inferiorly, and the left kidney medially
Ligaments Gastrosplenic, splenorenal and phrenicocolic ligaments
Blood supply Splenic artery and vein
Innervation Celiac ganglion
Lymphatics Splenic lymph nodes
functions Erythrophagocytosis, immunity, mononuclear phagocyte system

Anatomy of the Spleen

Location & Characteristics

The spleen is about 12 cm long and weighs 150 g. It is located in the left hypochondriac region between the ninth and twelfth rib where it is surrounded by a layer of fibroelastic connective tissue. It is almost completely covered by peritoneum except the hilum where the vessels and nerves pass through. A healthy, non-enlarged spleen does not extend beyond the rib cage and, thus, is not palpable. In newborns it has a rather lobulated structure which may persist until adulthood. About 10% of all people have additional splenic tissue, e.g. near the pancreatic tail or along splenic vessels, which is referred to as an accessory spleen.

Anatomy of the spleen

Borders

Anterior to the spleen is the stomach and posteriorly the convexity of the diaphragm. Due its proximity to the costodiaphragmatic recess it is partly covered by the lower border of the lungs. The spleen sits upon the splenic flexure of the colon (the curvature between the transverse and descending colon). Medially it borders with the left kidney. To a small extent it also reaches the pancreatic tail near the hilum.

Ligamentous Attachments

Three ligaments originating from the surrounding structures attach to the spleen. The gastrosplenic ligament stretches between the greater curvature of the stomach to the hilum of the spleen. The splenorenal ligament connects the left kidney with the spleen at the same point as the latter ligament. Lastly, the spleen sits on the phrenicocolic ligament which originates from the colon and is also known as the sustentaculum lienis.

Blood Supply

The splenic artery originates from the celiac trunk and splits at least into two branches before entering the hilum and reaching the splenic lobes. These branch off smaller arteries to the splenic segments (segmental splenic arteries). The splenic vein arises at the hilum and drains venous blood from the segmental splenic veins. It courses behind the pancreatic body towards the hepatic portal vein.

Innervation

Fibers from the celiac ganglion supply the organ both sympathetically and parasympathetically. The nerves accompany the splenic arteries.

Lymphatic Drainage

The splenic lymph nodes lie at the hilum and receive lymph via perivascular and subcapsular lymph vessels. It is then drained to the celiac and superior pancreatic lymph nodes.

Functions

The spleen is part of the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS) and innate immune system. It ingests bacteria and other harmful substances. The lymphoid follicles of the white pulp has B cells which produce antibodies. Furthermore T cells are located around the periarteriolar lymphoid sheaths which recognize antigens presented on MHC molecules.

About one third of the removal of physiologically aged red blood occurs in the spleen (erythrophagocytosis). To a small degree it also stores erythrocytes and thrombocytes. During the embryological development the spleen is involved in the production of red blood cells (erythropoiesis) until the eighth fetal month.

Clinical Points

Splenectomy is the surgical removal of the spleen either in its entirety or partially. Despite its important function for the immune system, the spleen is a non-essential organ. The reasons for removing the spleen include:

  • an extensive splenomegaly
  • rupture
  • a severe infection
  • a wandering spleen
  • certain blood disorders, e.g. sickle cell anemia and immune thrombocytopenic purpura

Patients with a removed spleen are prone to infections and need additional vaccinations and preventive antibiotics (if necessary) for the rest of their lives. Therefore the indication for splenectomy has become stricter in comparison to the past.

Spleen - 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 852,397 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:

  • Frank H. Netter: Atlas of Human Anatomy, 5th Edition, Saunders, p.150
  • Neil S. Norton, Frank H. Netter: Netter’s Head and Neck Anatomy for Dentistry, 2nd Edition, Elsevier Saunders, p.598
  • G Gayer et al.: CT findings in congenital anomalies of the spleen, British Journal of Radiology (2001) 74, 767-772
  • Jörg Rüdiger Siewert: Chirurgie, 7th edition, Springer Verlag (2000), p. 758-764
  • Friedrich Anderhuber, Franz Pera, Johannes Streicher: Waldeyer Anatomie des Menschen, De Gruyter (2012), 19th edition, p.557-561

Author:

  • Dr. Alexandra Sieroslawska

Illustrators:

  • Anatomy of the spleen - Irina Münstermann
© Unless stated otherwise, all content, including illustrations are exclusive property of Kenhub GmbH, and are protected by German and international copyright laws. All rights reserved.

Related Atlas Images

Structure of the spleen

Arteries of the stomach, the liver and the spleen

Lymphatics of the pancreas, the duodenum and the spleen

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