Difference between revisions of "Respiratory System - Upper Respiratory Tract"

From Embryology
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==Upper Respiratory Tract==
[[File:Gray0961.jpg|thumb|Adult upper respiratory tract conducting system]]
[[File:Gray0961.jpg|thumb|Adult upper respiratory tract conducting system]]
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* anatomically the nose, nasal cavity and the pharynx
* anatomically the nose, nasal cavity and the pharynx
* the pharynx forms a major arched cavity within the pharyngeal arches
* the pharynx forms a major arched cavity within the pharyngeal arches
==Paranasal Sinuses==
==Paranasal Sinuses==

Revision as of 12:44, 12 February 2012


Respiratory system overview (stage 13)

The respiratory system does not carry out its physiological function (of gas exchange) until after birth. The respiratory tract, diaphragm and lungs do form early in embryonic development. In the head/neck region, the pharynx forms a major arched cavity within the phrayngeal arches.

The respiratory tract is divided anatomically into 2 main parts:

  1. upper respiratory tract - consisting of the nose, nasal cavity and the pharynx.
  2. lower respiratory tract - consisting of the larynx, trachea, bronchi and the lungs.

See also related notes on Smell Development and Head Development.

Respiratory Links: respiratory | Science Lecture | Lecture Movie | Med Lecture | Stage 13 | Stage 22 | upper respiratory tract | diaphragm | Histology | Postnatal | respiratory abnormalities | Respiratory Quiz | Respiratory terms | Category:Respiratory
Historic Embryology - Respiratory 
1902 The Nasal Cavities and Olfactory Structures | 1906 Lung | 1912 Upper Respiratory Tract | 1912 Respiratory | 1913 Prenatal and Neonatal Lung | 1914 Phrenic Nerve | 1918 Respiratory images | 1921 Respiratory | 1922 Chick Pulmonary Vessels | 1934 Right Fetal Lung | 1936 Early Human Lung | 1937 Terminal Air Passages | 1938 Human Histology

Some Recent Findings

Human embryo (stage 22) nasal epithelium development.

References | Recent References


  • Human Embryology Larson Chapter 9 p229-260
  • The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (6th ed.) Moore and Persaud Chapter 12 p271-302
  • Before We Are Born (5th ed.) Moore and Persaud Chapter 13 p255-287
  • Essentials of Human Embryology Larson Chapter 9 p123-146
  • Human Embryology Fitzgerald and Fitzgerald Chapter 19,20 p119-123
  • Anatomy of the Human Body 1918 Henry Gray 1. The Respiratory Apparatus


Adult upper respiratory tract conducting system
  • part of foregut development
  • anatomically the nose, nasal cavity and the pharynx
  • the pharynx forms a major arched cavity within the pharyngeal arches

Paranasal Sinuses

frontal sinus

Paranasal sinuses are thought to develop as "pneumatisation" of bone and out-pocketing of the respiratory nasal epithelium. There are 4 paired sinuses, named by their anatomical location, and lined with respiratory epithelium. The sinuses begins to form at 10 weeks (GA) by primary pneumatisation, later in fetal development secondary pneumatisation occurs enlarging the existing spaces. These sinuses continue to enlarge postnatally.

Note that during development, these are amniotic fluid fluid-filled spaces, therefore pneumatisation (USA, pneumatization) is a misnomer as only postnatally fluid loss forms the air-filled (pneumatic) spaces.

A study of fetal cleft lip and palate[1] showed that sphenoid sinus was still present with variability in morphology compared to normal fetus perhaps due to altered shape and size of the adjacent hypertrophic cartilaginous structures.

Computed tomography measurements from a study of 120 adult (age 18-65 years) maxillary and frontal sinuses.[2]

  • mean maxillary sinus volume 15.7±5.3 cm3
  • larger in males than in females.
  • no correlation between the volume of maxillary sinuses with either age or side.
  • mean bone thickness at the canine fossa was 1.1±0.4 mm.

Frontal Sinus

Ethmoid Sinus

A 1997 article[3] based upon study of coronal sections of the heads of 23 human fetuses from 18-mm CR length to 282-mm CR length. The study suggests that the ethmoid sinus forms by: "constriction of the nasal cavity by a pair of turbinal cushions, and evagination from the nasal cavity by proliferation and subsequent disintegration of the nasal epithelium".

Sphenoid Sinus

Sphenoid Sinus

Data quoted in a 1996 article[4] on the sphenoid sinus.

  • 4 month - sphenoid sinuses can be identified.
  • at birth - sinus remains small and is little more than an evagination of the sphenoethmoid recess.
  • year 3 - invasion of the sphenoid bone is more rapid
  • year 7 - sinus has extended posteriorly to the level of the sella turcica.
  • year 12 - sphenoid pneumatization reaches its final form and a size equivalent to the adult
  • adult - further enlargement into the basisphenoid may occur.

Maxillary Sinus

Developmentally, the maxillary sinus originates in the middle meatus and extends into the ethmoid cartilage.

The data below is from a recent microscopical study of 100 human fetuses from the 9th to the 37th week (GA).[5]

  • week 10 - maxillary sinus begins development.
  • week 37 - the anterior-posterior diameter has a mean of 4.36 mm; ossification of the medial wall was absent, and the floor was located below the attachment of the inferior turbinate. Septa and recesses were temporarily observed.
  • maxillary sinus osmium (opening) was located at the anterior third of the ethmoid infundibulum
    • final dimensions were 1.96 mm in length and 0.44 mm in width.
  • mean length between the ostium to the lamina papyracea and nasolacrimal duct was 1 mm.


The animations below allow a comparison of early and late embryonic lung development. Compare the size and relative position of the respiratory structures and their anatomical relationship to the developing gastrointestinal tract.

Stage13-GIT-icon.jpg Early embryo (stage 13)

3 dimensional reconstruction based upon a serial reconstruction from individual Carnegie stage 13 embryo slice images.

Stage22-GIT-icon.jpg Late embryo (stage 22)

3 dimensional reconstruction based upon a serial reconstruction from individual embryo slice images Carnegie stage 22, 27 mm Human embryo, approximate day 56.

Links: Flash Movies


  1. <pubmed>9431465</pubmed>
  2. <pubmed>21466703</pubmed>
  3. <pubmed>9294654</pubmed>
  4. <pubmed>8958546</pubmed>
  5. <pubmed>22267494</pubmed>


<pubmed>21944636</pubmed> <pubmed>16798587</pubmed> <pubmed>15222948</pubmed>


<pubmed>21147652</pubmed> <pubmed>20966466</pubmed> <pubmed>20490493</pubmed>

Search PubMed

Search Pubmed: Upper Respiratory Tract Development | Upper Respiratory Tract Embryology


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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2021, May 12) Embryology Respiratory System - Upper Respiratory Tract. Retrieved from https://embryology.med.unsw.edu.au/embryology/index.php/Respiratory_System_-_Upper_Respiratory_Tract

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© Dr Mark Hill 2021, UNSW Embryology ISBN: 978 0 7334 2609 4 - UNSW CRICOS Provider Code No. 00098G