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Superior View of the Middle Cranial Base

Surgical Correlation


A, The floor of the middle fossa has been preserved. The anterior part of the floor of the middle fossa is formed by the greater sphenoid wing, which roofs the infratemporal fossa, and the posterior part of the floor is formed by the upper surface of the temporal bone. The internal acoustic meatus, mastoid antrum, and tympanic cavities have been unroofed. The dural roof and lateral wall of the cavernous sinus have been removed. The petrous segment of the internal carotid artery is exposed lateral to the trigeminal nerve. The temporalis muscle is exposed in the temporal fossa lateral to the greater sphenoid wing. B, The floor of the middle fossa has been removed to show the relationship below the floor. The temporalis muscle descends medial to the zygomatic arch in the temporal fossa to insert on the coronoid process of the mandible. The infratemporal fossa is located medial to the temporal fossa, below the greater sphenoid wing, and contains the pterygoid muscles and venous plexus and branches of the mandibular nerve and maxillary artery. The mandibular condyle is located below the posterior part of the middle fossa floor, which is formed by the temporal bone. C, Enlarged view of the posterior part of the area below the middle fossa floor. The roof of the temporal bone, which forms the posterior part of the floor of the middle fossa, has been opened to expose the mastoid antrum, eustachian tube, semicircular canals, cochlea, the nerves in the internal acoustic meatus, and the mandibular condyle. D, The trigeminal nerve has been reflected forward. The abducens nerve passes below the petrosphenoid ligament and through Dorello’s canal. The petrous segment of the carotid passes below the petrolingual ligament to enter the cavernous sinus. The greater petrosal nerve is joined by the deep petrosal branch of the carotid sympathetic plexus to form the vidian nerve, which passes forward in the vidian canal, which has been unroofed. The lesser petrosal nerve arises from the tympanic branch of the glossopharyngeal nerve, which passes across the promontory in the tympanic nerve plexus and regroups to cross the floor of the middle fossa, exiting the cranium to provide parasympathetic innervation through the otic ganglion to the parotid gland. The tensor tympani muscle and eustachian are layered, with the former above the latter, along and separated from the anterior surface of the petrous carotid by a thin layer of bone. (Images courtesy of AL Rhoton, Jr.)