After completing this study unit you will be able to:
- Understand the bony structure of the pterygopalatine fossa and its location relative to the intracranial and extracranial compartments.
- Locate the main foramina, canals and fissures that communicate with this space.
- List the main contents of the pterygopalatine fossa.
The pterygopalatine fossa is a small cone-shaped space located between the pterygoid process of the sphenoid posteriorly, the posterior aspect of the maxilla anteriorly and the lateral surface of the palatine bone medially.
Despite its small size, this region is anatomically strategic because of its communications with different intra and extracranial spaces: the middle cranial fossa, pharyngeal vault, infratemporal fossa, lateral nasal cavity, floor of the orbit and tissues of soft and hard palates.
The main contents of the pterygopalatine fossa are the maxillary nerve (CN V2) and its branches as well as the pterygopalatine ganglion, formed by preganglionic fibers of the nerve of the pterygoid canal. Additionally, it contains the pterygopalatine part of the maxillary artery, its branches and accompanying veins.
Our atlas gallery below will help you understand the spatial relationship between the pterygopalatine fossa and the intra and extracranial spaces, as well the main contents of the fossa.
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Anterior: Posterior surface of maxilla
Posterior: Pterygoid process of sphenoid bone
Superior: Greater wing of sphenoid bone
Inferomedial: Palatine bone
Lateral: Pterygopalatine fossa opens into infratemporal fossa via pterygomaxillary fissure
Foramen rotundum and pterygoid canal (posterior wall) → middle cranial fossa
Palatovaginal canal (posterior wall) → mucosa of pharyngeal vault
Pterygomaxillary fissure (lateral aspect) → Infratemporal fossa
Sphenopalatine foramen (medial wall) → mucosa of lateral nasal cavity
Inferior orbital fissure (anterior wall) → Floor of the orbit
Lesser palatine canal (floor) → mucosa of the soft palate
Greater palatine canal (floor) → mucosa of the hard palate
Maxillary nerve (CN V2) and its branches: zygomatic nerve and branches to the pterygopalatine ganglion
Pterygopalatine ganglion afferent nerves: branches from maxillary nerve, nerve of pterygoid canal
Pterygopalatine ganglion efferent nerves: pharyngeal nerve, greater and lesser palatine nerves, orbital branches, posterior superior lateral nasal branches, nasopalatine nerves
Pterygopalatine part (3rd part) of maxillary artery and its branches: greater palatine, posterior superior alveolar, infraorbital, sphenopalatine and pharyngeal arteries and artery of pterygoid canal
Pterygoid venous plexus, greater palatine vein, infraorbital vein, deep facial vein → all draining to cavernous sinus, maxillary, or facial veins
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