The spleen is an intraperitoneal organ located in the left upper quadrant of the abdomen that originates from the mesoderm. As it lies deep within the rib cage, the spleen is generally not palpable except in particularly slender individuals or if it is pathologically enlarged (splenomegaly). It is supplied by the splenic artery (a branch of the celiac trunk) and drained by the splenic vein, which joins the superior mesenteric vein to form the hepatic portal vein. The lymphatics drain into the celiac lymph nodes. The spleen receives its sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation via the celiac plexus and the vagus nerve respectively. The spleen is composed of the white pulp and the red pulp, which are separated by the marginal zone. The red pulp consists of blood-filled sinusoids and cords that filter abnormal red blood cells and platelets. The white pulp consists of the periarterial lymphatic sheath and lymphoid follicles, which are involved in the production of antibodies. Marginal-zone macrophages are involved in the clearance of encapsulated pathogens. In embryos, the spleen is the site of hematopoiesis. The spleen is a well-vascularized organ that is susceptible to injury and rupture from blunt abdominal injury. Asplenic patients should receive vaccinations against encapsulated organisms such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Neisseria meningitidis, and H. influenzae.

Gross anatomy



  • Coffee bean-shaped, intraperitoneal organ
  • The spleen has two poles (superior and inferior) and two surfaces (diaphragmatic and visceral).
  • Usually not palpable as it lies deep in the rib cage, but may be felt in individuals of slender build or those with splenomegaly.


The “odd” spleen: 1-3-5-7-9-11 --> The spleen is 1 inch (thickness) by 3 inches (breadth) by 5 inches (length), weighs 7 ounces, and lies between the 9th and 11th ribs.


Vasculature and innervation

  • Splenic hilum
    • Located on the visceral surface of the spleen
    • Entry and exit point for splenic vasculature
    • Only part of spleen that is not covered in peritoneum
Vessel Course Notable features
  • Celiac nodes

The spleen has only a thin capsule and is a well-vascularized organ, making it susceptible to injury and rupture, especially through trauma to the LUQ or left lower ribs. Splenic rupture should therefore always be considered in blunt abdominal injuries!


The splenic ligaments connect the spleen to neighboring structures, contain important vessels and are part of the greater omentum.

Gastrosplenic ligament Splenorenal ligament
Connected structure
Ligament contents
  • Short gastric vessels, gastroepiploic vessels

Microscopic anatomy

The spleen is made of red pulp and white pulp, separated by the marginal zone.

Red pulp (75%)

Red pulp is composed of splenic cords and sinuses (sinusoids)

White pulp (25%)


Red pulp

White pulp

The white pulp is the lymphatic tissue of the spleen. After maturation in the primary lymphatic organs, lymphocytes migrate into the spleen (as a secondary lymphoid organ), where they lie dormant until activation. After differentiation to effector cells, activated B and T lymphocytes reenter the bloodstream via the red pulp to mount an immune response in inflamed tissue.

The spleen is the major site of IgM production in the body. It also contains a large store of macrophages capable of capturing opsonized bacteria. Opsonization is the body's primary defense against encapsulated bacteria. Therefore, splenectomy → IgM production (→ ↓ complement activation → opsonization) → ↓ bacterial clearance of opsonized bacteria → ↑ susceptibility to infection by encapsulated bacteria. Asplenic patients must be vaccinated against infection with encapsulated organisms!


Prenatally, the spleen is involved in the formation of blood! Postnatally, extramedullary hematopoiesis in the spleen would not be physiological but rather an indicator of a hemato-oncological disease (e.g., bone marrow involvement in leukemia or lymphoma)!

Clinical significance

The spleen can become enlarged (splenomegaly) due to various disorders: increased immunological burden (e.g., infectious mononucleosis), increased RBC removal and destruction (e.g., hemolytic anemia), blood congestion (e.g., portal hypertension), and malignant infiltration (e.g., leukemia, lymphoma).

last updated 09/09/2020
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