Structures of the Respiratory System

The major passages and structures of the respiratory system are the nasal cavity, pharynx, larynx and trachea, and the bronchi, bronchioles, and pulmonary alveoli within the lungs. The structures of the upper respiratory system include the nose, pharynx, and associated structures; the lower respiratory system includes the larynx, trachea, bronchial tree, pulmonary alveoli, and lungs. On the basis of general function, the respiratory system is frequently divided into a conducting division and a respiratory division. The conducting division includes all of the cavities and structures that transport gases to and from the pulmonary alveoli. The respiratory division consists of the pulmonary alveoli, which are the functional units of the respiratory system where gas exchange between the air and the blood occur.


Air is conducted through the oral and nasal cavities to the pharynx, and then through the larynx to the trachea and bronchial tree. These structures deliver warmed and humidified air to the respiratory division within the lungs.

The conducting passages serve to transport air to the respiratory structures of the lungs. The passageways are lined with various types of epithelia that cleanse, warm, and humidify the air. The majority of the conducting passages are held permanently open by muscle or a bony or cartilaginous framework.

The nasal epithelium is highly vascular and covers an extensive surface area. The vomer and the perpendicular plate of the ethmoid bone. Dust. The anterior openings of the nasal cavity are lined with stratified squamous epithelium.Nose The nose includes an external portion that protrudes from the face and an internal nasal cavity for the passage of air. filter macroparticles that might otherwise be inhaled. The external portion of the nose is covered with skin and supported by paired nasal bones. Each nasal fossa opens anteriorly through the nostril (naris. pollen. the superior. and communicates posteriorly with the nasopharynx through the choana (ko-a'naÙ). which forms the distal portions. whereas the conchae are lined with pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium. Air passages between the conchae are referred to as nasal meatuses (me-a'tuses). and posteriorly by the sphenoid bone. (internal nares). This is important for warming the air but unfortunately also makes humans susceptible to nosebleeds because the nasal mucosa may dry and crack. Olfactory epithelium in the upper medial portion of the nasal cavity is concerned with the sense of smell. The palatine and maxillary bones form the floor of the cavity. Each half is referred to as a nasal fossa. and cleanse the inspired air. The nasal vestibule is the anterior expanded portion of the nasal fossa. The roof of the nasal cavity is formed anteriorly by the frontal bone and paired nasal bones. and inferior nasal conchae (kong'ke). which divides the nasal cavity into two lateral halves.The three functions of the nasal cavity and its contents are as follows: Nasal epithelium covering the conchae serves to warm. Nasal cavity affects the voice by functioning as a resonating chamber . The septal cartilage forms the anterior portion of the nasal septum. together with the septal cartilage. or turbinates. external nares). and the paired lateral cartilages and alar cartilages form the framework around the nostrils. smoke. Nasal hairs called vibrissae (vi-bris'e). Mucus-secreting goblet cells are present in great abundance throughout both regions. and other fine particles are trapped along the moist mucous membrane lining the nasal cavity. moisten. medially by the cribriform plate of the ethmoid bone. and pliable cartilage. middle. On the lateral walls of the nasal cavity are three bony projections. constitute the supporting framework of the nasal septum. which form the bridge. which often extend from the nostrils.

or adenoids. ‡ The oropharynx is the middle portion of the pharynx between the soft palate and the level of the hyoid bone. Each sinus communicates via drainage ducts within the nasal cavity on its own side.Paranasal Sinuses Paired air spaces in certain bones of the skull are called paranasal sinuses. sphenoidal. Pharynx The pharynx is a funnel-shaped organ. and the lumen is lined with a mucous membrane. Paranasal sinuses may help warm and moisten the inspired air. If this occurs before the uvula effectively blocks the nasopharynx.´ the pharynx has both respiratory and digestive functions. the soft palate and uvula are elevated to block the nasal cavity and prevent food from entering. During the act of swallowing. The pharyngeal tonsils. It also provides a resonating chamber for certain speech sounds. approximately 13 cm (5 in. These sinuses are named according to the bones in which they are found. It is the uppermost portion of the pharynx. Within the pharynx are several paired lymphoid organs called tonsils. and the lingual tonsils are found on the base of the tongue. they function to decrease the weight of the skull while providing structural strength. A pendulous uvula (yoo'vyuÙ-laÙ) hangs from the middle lower portion of the soft palate. because it is located above the point of food entry into the body (the mouth). The base of the tongue forms the anterior wall of the oropharynx. It extends inferiorly from the level of the hyoid bone to the larynx and opens into the esophagus and larynx. The pharynx is divided on the basis of location and function into three regions: ‡ The nasopharynx serves only as a passageway for air.) long that connects the nasal and oral cavities to the larynx of the respiratory system and the esophagus of the digestive system. These sinuses are responsible for some sound resonance. ‡ The laryngopharynx (laÙ-ring''go-far'ingks) is the lowermost portion of the pharynx. The paired auditory (eustachian) tubes connect the nasopharynx with the tympanic cavities. Occasionally a person may suddenly exhale air (as with a laugh) while in the process of swallowing fluid. thus. are situated in the posterior wall of the nasal cavity. It is at the lower . frontal. and ethmoidal sinuses. The supporting walls of the pharynx are composed of skeletal muscle. fluid will be discharged through the nasal cavity. Both swallowed food and fluid and inhaled air pass through it. positioned directly behind the nasal cavity and above the soft palate. Commonly referred to as the ³throat´ or ³gullet. there are the maxillary. Paired palatine tonsils are located on the posterior lateral wall. but most important.

The epiglottis is located behind the root of the tongue where it aids in closing the glottis. or laryngeal opening. Its primary function is to prevent food or fluid from entering the trachea and lungs during swallowing and to permit passage of air while breathing. The vestibular folds are not used in sound production. whereas inhaled air is directed anteriorly into the larynx.´ It is an anterior vertical ridge along the larynx that can be palpated on the midline of the neck. referred to as the epiglottic cartilage. The vestibular folds support the vocal folds and produce mucus from its epithelial lining. Swallowed food and fluid are directed into the esophagus. Larynx The larynx (lar'ingks). A secondary role is to produce sound. Two pairs of strong connective tissue bands are stretched across the upper opening of the larynx from the thyroid cartilage anteriorly to the paired arytenoid cartilages posteriorly. The paired arytenoid (ar'' Ùte'noid) cartilages. Stratified squamous epithelium lines the vocal folds. This third unpaired cartilage connects the thyroid cartilage above and the trachea below. are the posterior attachments of the vocal folds. The largest of the unpaired cartilages is the anterior thyroid cartilage. which keep the vestibular folds from drying out. whereas the rest of the larynx is lined with pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium. or ³voice box. It is composed of a framework involving nine cartilages: three are large unpaired structures. It is positioned in the anterior midline of the neck at the level of the fourth through sixth cervical vertebrae. The larynx is shaped like a triangular box. and six are smaller and paired. .´ is a continuation of the conducting division that connects the laryngopharynx with the trachea. The other paired cuneiform cartilages and corniculate (kor-nik'yuÙ-la t) cartilages are small accessory cartilages that are closely associated with the arytenoid cartilages. The spoon-shaped epiglottis (ep'' Ù-glot'is) has a framework of hyaline cartilage. located above the cricoid and behind the thyroid. The lower end of the larynx is formed by the ring-shaped cricoid (kri'koid) cartilage. The larynx has two functions. but rather the vocal folds vibrate to produce sound. The laryngeal prominence of the thyroid cartilage is commonly called the ³Adam¶s apple. This is an important anatomical modification considering the tremendous vibratory action of the vocal folds in the production of sound. during swallowing. These are the vocal folds (true vocal cords) and the vestibular folds (false vocal cords).laryngopharynx that the respiratory and digestive systems become distinct. The thyroid cartilage is typically larger and more prominent in males than in females because of the effect of male sex hormones on the development of the larynx during puberty.

It is positioned anterior to the esophagus as it extends into the thoracic cavity. This junction is reinforced by the carina (kaÙ-ri'naÙ). responsible for elevating the larynx during swallowing. . change the length. It provides the same protection against dust and other particles as the membrane lining the nasal cavity and larynx. approximately 12 cm (4 in.) in diameter. If the vocal folds are taut.) long and 2. Medial to the lungs. for example. and tension of the vocal folds. Sounds originate in the larynx. position. vibration is more rapid and causes a higher pitch. a keel-like cartilage plate. Vowel sounds. tubular organ. The final enunciation of words is accomplished through movements of the tongue and lips. when contracted. Various pitches are produced as air passes over the altered vocal folds. The mucosa (surface lining the lumen) consists of pseudostratified ciliated columnar epithelium containing numerous mucus-secreting goblet cells. A series of 16 to 20 C-shaped hyaline cartilages form the supporting wallsof the trachea. The open part of each of these cartilages faces the esophagus and permits the esophagus to expand slightly into the trachea during swallowing. There are two groups of laryngeal muscles: extrinsic muscles. the trachea splits to form the right and left principal bronchi. connecting the larynx to the principal (primary) bronchi. paranasal sinuses. and oral and nasal cavities act as resonating chambers.´ is a semirigid.The laryngeal muscles are extremely important in closing the glottis during swallowing and in speech. and intrinsic muscles that. The vocal folds do not vibrate when a person whispers. are produced by constriction of the walls of the pharynx. Mature males generally have thicker and longer vocal folds than females.5 cm (1 in. Less tension on the vocal folds produces lower sounds. the vocal folds of males vibrate more slowly and produce lower pitches. therefore. Trachea The trachea (tra'ke-aÙ) commonly called the ³windpipe. but other structures are necessary to convert sound into recognizable speech. The pharynx. The loudness of vocal sound is determined by the force of the air passed over the vocal folds and the amount of vibration. These tracheal cartilages ensure that the airway will always remain open.

Bronchioles provide the greatest resistance to air flow in the conducting passages²a function analogous to that of arterioles in the circulatory system. A simple cuboidal epithelium lines the bronchioles rather than the pseudostratified columnar epithelium that lines the bronchi. The trachea bifurcates into right and left principal (primary) bronchi at the level of the sternal angle behind the manubrium. The principal bronchus divides deeper in the lungs to form lobar (secondary) bronchi and segmental (tertiary) bronchi. Each principal bronchus has hyaline cartilage rings within its wall surrounding the lumen to keep it open as it extends into the lung. The bronchial tree continues to branch into even smaller tubules called bronchioles (brong'ke-o lz). foreign particles are more likely to lodge here than in the left principal bronchus. Because of the more vertical position of the right principal bronchus. Numerous terminal bronchioles connect to respiratory bronchioles that lead into alveolar ducts. . The thick smooth muscle that encircles their lumina can constrict or dilate these airways. There is little cartilage in the bronchioles. and then into alveolar sacs.Bronchial Tree The bronchial tree is so named because it is composed of a series of respiratory tubes that branch into progressively narrower tubes as they extend into the lung.

these units together compose most of the mass of the lungs. Although the distance between each alveolar duct and its terminal pulmonary alveoli is only about 0.B. in the alveolar sacs at the ends of the alveolar ducts. Type I alveolar cells permit diffusion.5 mm.50 mm in diameter) are the functional units of the respiratory system. AND PLEURAE Pulmonary alveoli are the functional units of the lungs. Alveolar sacs are clusters of pulmonary alveoli. This is an average distance because type II alveolar cells are thicker than type I alveolar cells. hence. Pulmonary Alveoli The alveolar ducts open into pulmonary alveoli (al-ve'oÙ-li) as outpouchingsalong their length. pulmonary alveoli. so that the total air-blood barrier is only one pulmonary alveolar cell with its basement membrane and one blood capillary cell across. The alveolar ducts. RESPIRATORY DIVISION PULMONARY ALVEOLI. or about 2 micrometers.25±0. and type II alveolar cells (septal cells) secrete a substance called surfactant that reduces the tendency for pulmonary alveoli to collapse. LUNGS. The vast number of these structures (about 350 million per lung) provides a very large surface area (60±80 square meters. Pulmonary alveoli are polyhedral in shape and are usually clustered together. or 760 square feet) for the diffusion of gases. where gas exchange occurs. The diffusion rate is further increased by the fact that the wall of each pulmonary alveolus is only one cell layer thick. and alveolar sacs make up the respiratory division of the lungs. . these minute expansions (0. Right and left lungs are separately contained in pleural membranes. like the units of a honeycomb. Gas exchange occurs across the walls of the tiny pulmonary alveoli.

Finally. called the apex (cupola) of the lung. called the base of the lung. spongy lungs are paired organs within the thoracic cavity. The superior surface. The left lung is somewhat smaller than the right and has a cardiac impression on its medial surface to accommodate the heart. The right lung contains 10 bronchial segments and the left lung contains 8. Each lobe of the lung is divided into many small lobules. Lobular divisions of the lungs make up specific bronchial segments. and inferior lobes. they are not identical.Lungs The large. The mediastinal (medial) surface of the lung is slightly concave and contains a vertical slit. The left lung is subdivided into a superior lobe and an inferior lobe by a single fissure. All structures of the respiratory system including beyond the the principal tree bronchi. middle. rounded surface in contact with the membranes covering the ribs is called the costal surface of the lung. Each bronchial segment has its own blood supply and if diseased it can be surgically isolated. . are contained within the lungs. is concave as it fits over the convex dome of the diaphragm. extends above the level of the clavicle. the hilum through which pulmonary vessels. Each lung has four surfaces that match the contour of the thoracic cavit y. the broad. and the bronchial pulmonary alveoli. Each lung extends from the diaphragm to a point just above the clavicle. which in turn contain the pulmonary alveoli. nerves. Although the right and left lungs are basically similar. The inferior surface of the lung. and bronchi pass. and its surfaces are bordered by the ribs to the front and back. The lungs are separated from one another by the heart and other structures of the mediastinum (me''de-aÙ-sti'num) which is the area between the lungs. The right lung is subdivided by two fissures into three lobes: superior.

and therefore the lungs are stuck to the thoracic wall. The pleural cavity in a healthy. various nerves. they get larger and smaller along with the thoracic cavity during respiratory movements. and a penetrating injury to the thoracic cavity. The pleural cavity (intrapleural space) between the two moistened membranes contains only a thin layer of fluid secreted by the serous membranes. an inflamed pleura. and the mediastinum contains the esophagus. such as a knife wound. Because the lungs normally remain in contact with the thoracic wall. The thoracic cavity has four distinct compartments: a pleural cavity surrounds each lung. thoracic duct. The pulmonary ligaments help support the lungs. damage to one organ usually will not involve another.Pleurae Pleura are serous membranes surrounding the lungs and lining the thoracic cavity. and portions of the respiratory tract. The moistened serous membranes of the visceral and parietal pleurae are normally flush against each other like two wet pieces of glass. A continuation of the parietal pleura and between the lungs forms the boundary of the mediastinum. . it can become real only in abnormal situations when air enters the intrapleural space. An inferiorly extending reflection of the pleural layers around the roots of each lung is called the pulmonary ligament. The parietalpl eura lines the thoracic walls and the thoracic surface of the diaphragm. may cause one lung to collapse but not the other. Also. It contains a lubricating fluid that allows the membranes to slide past each other easily during respiration. major vessels. the pericardial cavity surrounds the heart. The visceral pleura adheres to the outer surface of the lung and extends into each of the interlobar fissures. For example. living person is thus potential rather than real. is generally confined to one side. pleurisy. Between the visceral and parietal pleurae is the slitlike pleural cavity. This compartmentalization has protective value in that infections are usually confined to one compartment.

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