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 01/08/2020
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