Anatomy of the pleura

Clin Chest Med. 1998 Jun;19(2):229-40. doi: 10.1016/s0272-5231(05)70074-5.


The lung and heart, the vital organs, have to be protected and also have to move and change volume continuously to function. For the best protection and function of the lung, the thorax is shaped almost like a bellows with the diaphragm as the moving part. Furthermore, the outer surface of the lung and the inner surface of the protective thoracic cage are covered by an elastic, serous, and lubricating membrane to form the pleural cavity. This is almost like inserting a sealed-wet and stretchable-plastic bag between the lung and the thoracic wall and diaphragm to decrease friction. The lubrication is accomplished by the facing mesothelial cells that have bushy-surface microvilli enmeshing hyaluronic acid-rich glycoproteins. The amount of fluid in the pleural cavity is regulated by the hydrostatic-osmotic pressure relationship and pleuro-lymphatic drainage. Excess fluid, large particles, and cells in the pleural cavity are removed through preformed stomas assisted by respiratory movements. The stoma is found only in the anterior lower thoracic wall and diaphragm and is like the drain of a sink. Finally, clinical and subclinical injuries of the pleura appear to occur often. Reactive mesothelial cells constantly repair the damages and keep the pleural cavity open. Without mesothelial cells, the lung cannot function properly and the pleural cavity will be quickly obliterated by fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Epithelium / anatomy & histology
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hyaluronic Acid / metabolism
  • Lymphatic System / anatomy & histology
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Microvilli / ultrastructure
  • Pinocytosis / physiology
  • Pleura / anatomy & histology*
  • Water-Electrolyte Balance / physiology


  • Glycoproteins
  • Hyaluronic Acid