Lab 5 - Lungs and Posterior Thorax

Pre-lab Exercise: Surface Anatomy of the Pleura and Lungs

Primary Lab Objectives and Goals:

  1. Expose the superior mediastinum and understand the relationship between structures in the thorax and the neck.

  2. Explore the pleural sacs, remove and examine the lungs.   Understand the position of the lungs relative to the mediastinum, the distinguishing features of right and left lungs, and the blood supply to the lungs (which follows bronchial branching and segments).

  3. Explore the posterior mediastinum. Locate the sympathetic trunk.  Understand the relationship of the sympathetic trunk with ventral rami.

  4. Trace the course of the trachea, esophagus, inferior vena cava, and vagus nerves in the thorax.

  5. Examine the patterns of venous and lymphatic drainage in the thorax.   The key is to locate and understand the relationship between the azygos and hemiazygos veins and the thoracic duct.




  1. Using a hand saw, cut through the middle of each clavicle between the insertions of the trapezius and sternocleidomastoid muscles (dotted lines in image).

  1. Reflect the manubrium cranially, together with the sternocleidomastoid, the sternohyoid muscles, and the medial ends of the clavicles, until the great vessels are exposed below the root of the neck.
  2. Remove any remnants of the thymus.
  3. Carefully remove any remaining pericardium from the thoracic cavity.
  4. Identify the superior vena cava and the right and left brachiocephalic veins which drain into the SVC (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich)
  5. Identify the aortic arch and its three branches, the brachiocephalic trunk, the left common carotid artery, and the left subclavian artery.
  6. Identify the trachea and the left and right bronchi.





  1. With your hands, explore the recesses of the left and right pleural sacs or cavities.
  2. Note that the parietal pleura extends farther caudally than the lungs on both sides.
  3. Slip your hand down into the costodiaphragmatic recess located below the lungs and between the costal portion of the body wall and the diaphragm.

Atlas Images:


The lungs are divided externally into lobes and internally into smaller broncho­pulmonary segments, the latter corresponding to the major branches of the bronchial tree inside the lung. The heart indents the left lung more deeply than the right; the left lung therefore is smaller, and has only two lobes to the right's three. Each lung has 10 broncho­pulmonary segments, although in the left lung some of these segments fuse together.


Atlas Images:


  1. Remove the lungs by transecting the right and left pulmonary arteries and bronchi at the root (or hilum) of the lungs (PLAY MOVIE - courtesy of UMich). Note, if visible, the tracheobronchial lymph nodes.
  2. Once all the connections at the hilum of the lung have been cut, use your hands to free any adhesions of the pleura and carefully remove the lung from the pleural cavity.


  1. Examine the surface features of right and left lungs (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich)
  2. You will want to look at and probe the two fissures on the right lung (oblique and horizontal) and the single fissure on the left (oblique)
  3. Identify the lobes associated with those fissures.  On the left lung, additionally identify the lingula in the inferior portion.


  1. Several thoracic organs make distinct impressions on the lung.  The heart makes a deep impression on the left lung, as does the arch of the aorta and descending aorta.  These features are less prominent on the right lung.
  2. Dissect the roots of the lungs, distinguishing pulmonary veins, arteries, and primary and secondary bronchi. (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich) 
  3. Note, with the aid of the figure below, the normal arrangement of veins, arteries and bronchi.  These will vary a bit depending on how close to the surface of the lung you have cut.
  4. Cut into the lung and examine the spongy tissue.  Try to identify bronchi and vessels traveling through the lung tissue.

Atlas Images:




  1. On the right side, completely remove any parietal pleura from the sides of the vertebrae and ribs.
  2. Identify and trace the chain of paravertebral sympathetic ganglia in the thorax (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich) This can be found near the most medial aspect of the ribs.
  3. Follow the sympathetic trunk and the greater splanchnic nerve, which exits the sympathetic trunk between T5-9 vertebral levels and travels medially and inferiorly, to the diaphragm.

Atlas Images:



  1. Trace the course of the esophagus, descending aorta and trachea through the mediastinum.
  2. Find the right and left vagus nerves as they pass superficial to the right subclavian and aortic arch, respectively. Attempt to trace some of the vagal fibers passing into the cardiac nerves and plexuses.
  3. After passing the last aortic arch derivative on each side, the vagus nerves form an esophageal plexus which coalesce to form the anterior and posterior vagal trunks on the lower esophagus. The anterior vagal trunk is formed primarily from the left vagus nerve and the posterior vagal trunk is formed primarily from the right vagus nerve.
  4. Find the esophageal plexus and the vagal trunks on the anterior and posterior surfaces of the esophagus.
  5. Trace the vagal plexus on the esophagus down to the diaphragm (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich)

NOTE: You will probably find the vagal fibers condensing into anterior and posterior vagal trunks, derived mostly from left and right vagus nerves respectively. Owing to the rotation of the abdominal gut, the esophagus drifts to the left and twists as it approaches the esophageal hiatus, which brings most of the right and left vagus nerve fibers into positions respectively dorsal and ventral to the gut.

  1. Trace the inferior vena cava, esophagus, and aorta to the diaphragm.
  2. Verify that the aorta (along with the azygos vein and thoracic duct) passes through the opening between the right and left crura of the diaphragm (aortic opening).
  3. Verify that the esophagus, accompanied by the vagus nerves, passes through the esophageal opening of the diaphragm. The vena cava passes through the central tendon.

Atlas Images:




  1. Find the azygos vein where it empties into the superior vena cava (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich).
  2. Follow this vein down along the posterior wall of the thorax on the right side. 
  3. Note its relationship to the aorta on the left side of the posterior wall of the thorax.
  4. Locate midline branches of the aorta (bronchial and esophageal arteries) supplying the thoracic derivatives of the gut.
  5. Identify several of the segmental posterior intercostal veins on the right side emptying into the azygos vein (just to the right of the esophagus).
  6.  Look to the left of the trachea and the esophagus.
  7. Locate the left superior intercostal vein and the hemiazygos vein(s).


The venous drainage of the posterior thoracic wall is fairly variable. Typically the right and left 1st posterior intercostal veins drain directly into the posterior aspects of the right and left brachiocephalic veins respectively. Below this is the azygos venous drainage network, which is considerably more variable and asymmetric. Slightly right of the vertebral column on the posterior internal thoracic wall is the azygos vein. The azygos vein curves over the root of the lung to drain into the SVC. The hemiazygos vein on the left crosses the midline to drain into the azygos vein on the right at around the level of T8-T9.

  1. Find the thoracic duct by looking for a thin-walled tubular structure lying between the azygos vein and the descending aorta (PLAY MOVIE -courtesy of UMich).

NOTE: The thoracic duct will seem hard to find, but if you probe carefully between the azygos and the descending aorta you will find it.

  1. Follow the thoracic duct up toward the brachicephalic vein.  It may be difficult at this stage to see its terminus. 

Atlas Images:


The thoracic duct is a major lymphatic channel and it is important to be able to identify it.  Lymphatics generally accompany veins. The azygos vein is accompanied by the terminal lymph channel of the body, the thoracic duct. It passes through the thorax, moving slightly leftward (it is variable when it crosses the midline) and typically empties into the subclavian vein near the left internal jugular vein. Its end point can vary; it can empty into the internal jugular or brachiocephalic vein directly.



1. In which direction will you reflect the manubrium and medial parts of the clavicles?

2. Where should you cut the pulmonary artery, veins, and bronchi in order to remove the lungs?

3. Will you be able to see the sympathetic trunk without removal of the parietal pleura?



Foreign body aspiration

Aspiration of foreign bodies into the lungs happens most commonly in toddlers. In general, children under the age of 15 account for 75-85% of all foreign body aspirations. In adults, this usually occurs when there is some impairment – either drug/alcohol induced, medical or mental. Aspiration in adults occurs predominantly in the right side bronchus as opposed to the left side. This is due to the nearly vertical pathway of the right bronchus and the more acute pathway of the left bronchus. The right side is also slightly wider than the left side. An object that is aspirated into the lung can cause symptoms that persist over a period of time if it is not initially discovered. Symptoms include a recurrent cough, wheezing, bronchitis, and pneumonia. The foreign body can be removed using a rigid bronchoscope.



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