Background information respiration | Anatomy | Lower respiratory tract | Larynx

Anatomical composition of the larynx

The larynx is an enlargement in the airway superior to the trachea and inferior to the pharynx. Primarily it functions to occlude the airways during swallowing, coughing and phonation.

Inside the larynx covered with laryngeal mucosa lie the vocal ligaments. They contain elastic fibre and function in voice production. Air expelled through the larynx causes vibration of the vocal cords generating sound waves. The length and tension of the vocal cords are regulated by contraction or relaxation of the intrinsic laryngeal muscles. Sound intensity depends on air force passing over the vocal cords. During normal breathing the vocal ligaments remain relaxed and the opening in between, called the glottis, is a triangular slit.

The larynx consists of a basic framework of 9 cartilages connected by membranes and ligaments. They comprise 8 pieces of hyaline cartilage: the thyroid, cricoid, and 3 sets of small paired cartilages (arytenoid, corniculate and cuneiform). The 9th piece, the epiglottis, is composed of elastic cartilage. The epiglottis usually stands upright allowing air to enter the larynx. Muscular contraction raises the larynx and the base of the tongue presses the epiglottis downwards covering the opening of the larynx.


Shier D, Butler J, Lewis R. Hole's human anatomy and physiology. 2004. McGraw Hill: New York

3-D morphological structures of the larynx

This is a 3-D model of the larynx. It can be moved horizontally around one axis. Clicking on the "labelling" button identifies the structures with their correct anatomical terms.

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