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Anatomy of the cranial base
Anatomy of the external and middle ear
Anatomy of the eye
Anatomy of the infratemporal fossa
Anatomy of the inner ear
Anatomy of the nose and paranasal sinuses
Anatomy of the oral cavity
Anatomy of the orbit
Anatomy of the pterygopalatine (sphenopalatine) fossa
Anatomy of the salivary glands
Anatomy of the temporomandibular joint and muscles of mastication
Anatomy of the tongue
Bones of the cranium
Muscles of the face and scalp
Nerves and vessels of the face and scalp
Anatomy clinical correlates: Ear
Anatomy clinical correlates: Eye
Anatomy clinical correlates: Skull, face and scalp
Anatomy clinical correlates: Temporal regions, oral cavity and nose
The pterygopalatine fossa, sometimes called the sphenopalatine fossa, is a cavity in our skull that sits behind the maxilla. We are going to think of the pterygopalatine fossa as a house for sale, and talk about its design, location, neighbours, and even the furnishings it comes with.
First, let’s talk about the shape of the house. The pterygopalatine fossa is shaped like an upside down trapezoidal prism and it is situated in a prime location, just posterior to the maxilla. So right off the bat, it makes sense that it’s bounded anteriorly by the posterior aspect of the maxilla!
Posteriorly, it’s bounded by the pterygoid process of the sphenoid. Medially, the fossa is bounded by the perpendicular plate of the palatine bone whereas laterally it opens into the pterygomaxillary fissure.
Its roof is formed by the infratemporal surface of the greater wing of the sphenoid bone and it is incomplete as there is an opening into the inferior orbital fissure. Finally, the floor is formed by the pyramidal process of the palatine bone with an opening into the palatine canal.
This means the pterygopalatine fossa’s neighbours include the middle cranial fossa, infratemporal fossa, orbit, nasal cavity, the roof of the oral cavity, and maxillary sinus and the pharyngeal vault .
Now, the pterygopalatine fossa communicates with its neighbors, aka surrounding structures, through many openings. First, it communicates with the middle cranial fossa through the foramen rotundum, located anteromedially on the sphenoid bone. The foramen rotundum provides passage for the maxillary nerve, which is the second main division of cranial nerve V.
Another connection to the middle cranial fossa is through the pterygoid canal within the sphenoid bone. The canal provides passage for the nerve and artery of the pterygoid canal.
The pterygopalatine fossa communicates with the infratemporal fossa through the pterygomaxillary fissure, which transmits the posterior superior alveolar nerve and artery and the maxillary artery. It communicates with the nasal cavity through the sphenopalatine foramen, which transmits the sphenopalatine artery and vein, and the nasopalatine nerve.
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