The lungs are the primary organs of the respiratory system in humans and many other animals including a few fish and some snails. In mammals and most other vertebrates, two lungs are located near the backbone on either side of the heart. Their function in the respiratory system is to extract oxygen from the atmosphere and transfer it into the bloodstream, and to release carbon dioxide from the bloodstream into the atmosphere, in a process of gas exchange. Respiration is driven by different muscular systems in different species. Mammals, reptiles and birds use their different muscles to support and foster breathing. In early tetrapods, air was driven into the lungs by the pharyngeal muscles via buccal pumping, a mechanism still seen in amphibians. In humans, the main muscle of respiration that drives breathing is the diaphragm. The lungs also provide airflow that makes vocal sounds including human speech possible.
Humans have two lungs, a right lung and a left lung. They are situated within the thoracic cavity of the chest. The right lung is bigger than the left, which shares space in the chest with the heart. The lungs together weigh approximately 1.3 kilograms (2.9 lb), and the right is heavier. The lungs are part of the lower respiratory tract that begins at the trachea and branches into the bronchi and bronchioles, and which receive air breathed in via the conducting zone. The conducting zone ends at the terminal bronchioles. These divide into the respiratory bronchioles of the respiratory zone which divide into alveolar ducts that give rise to the microscopic alveoli, where gas exchange takes place. Together, the lungs contain approximately 2,400 kilometres (1,500 mi) of airways and 300 to 500 million alveoli. Each lung is enclosed within a pleural sac which allows the inner and outer walls to slide over each other whilst breathing takes place, without much friction. This sac also divides each lung into sections called lobes. The right lung has three lobes and the left has two. The lobes are further divided into bronchopulmonary segments and lobules. The lungs have a unique blood supply, receiving deoxygenated blood from the heart in the pulmonary circulation for the purposes of receiving oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide, and a separate supply of oxygenated blood to the tissue of the lungs, in the bronchial circulation.
The tissue of the lungs can be affected by a number of diseases, including pneumonia and lung cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease includes chronic bronchitis and previously termed emphysema, can be related to smoking or exposure to harmful substances such as coal dust, asbestos fibres and crystalline silica dust. Diseases such as bronchitis can also affect the respiratory tract. Medical terms related to the lung often begin with pulmo-, from the Latin pulmonarius (of the lungs) as in pulmonology, or with pneumo- (from Greek "lung") as in pneumonia.
In embryonic development, the lungs begin to develop as an outpouching of the foregut, a tube which goes on to form the upper part of the digestive system. When the lungs are formed the fetus is held in the fluid-filled amniotic sac and so they do not function to breathe. Blood is also diverted from the lungs through the ductus arteriosus. At birth however, air begins to pass through the lungs, and the diversionary duct closes, so that the lungs can begin to respire. The lungs only fully develop in early childhood.
The main or primary bronchi enter the lungs at the hilum and initially branch into secondary bronchi also known as lobar bronchi that supply air to each lobe of the lung. The lobar bronchi branch into tertiary bronchi also known as segmental bronchi and these supply air to the further divisions of the lobes known as bronchopulmonary segments. Each bronchopulmonary segment has its own (segmental) bronchus and arterial supply. Segments for the left and right lung are shown in the table. The segmental anatomy is useful clinically for localising disease processes in the lungs. A segment is a discrete unit that can be surgically removed without seriously affecting surrounding tissue.
The lungs are located in the chest on either side of the heart in the rib cage. They are conical in shape with a narrow rounded apex at the top, and a broad concave base that rests on the convex surface of the diaphragm. The apex of the lung extends into the root of the neck, reaching shortly above the level of the sternal end of the first rib. The lungs stretch from close to the backbone in the rib cage to the front of the chest and downwards from the lower part of the trachea to the diaphragm. The left lung shares space with the heart, and has an indentation in its border called the cardiac notch of the left lung to accommodate this. The front and outer sides of the lungs face the ribs, which make light indentations on their surfaces. The medial surfaces of the lungs face towards the centre of the chest, and lie against the heart, great vessels, and the carina where the trachea divides into the two main bronchi. The cardiac impression is an indentation formed on the surfaces of the lungs where they rest against the heart.
Both lungs have a central recession called the hilum at the root of the lung, where the blood vessels and airways pass into the lungs. There are also bronchopulmonary lymph nodes on the hilum.
The lungs are surrounded by the pulmonary pleurae. The pleurae are two serous membranes; the outer parietal pleura lines the inner wall of the rib cage and the inner visceral pleura directly lines the surface of the lungs. Between the pleurae is a potential space called the pleural cavity containing a thin layer of lubricating pleural fluid. Each lung is divided into lobes by the infoldings of the pleura as fissures. The fissures are double folds of pleura that section the lungs and help in their expansion.
At birth, the baby's lungs are filled with fluid secreted by the lungs and are not inflated. After birth the infant's central nervous system reacts to the sudden change in temperature and environment. This triggers the first breath, within about 10 seconds after delivery. Before birth, the lungs are filled with fetal lung fluid. After the first breath, the fluid is quickly absorbed into the body or exhaled. The resistance in the lung's blood vessels decreases giving an increased surface area for gas exchange, and the lungs begin to breathe spontaneously. This accompanies other changes which result in an increased amount of blood entering the lung tissues.
At birth the lungs are very undeveloped with only around one sixth of the alveoli of the adult lung present. The alveoli continue to form into early adulthood, and their ability to form when necessary is seen in the regeneration of the lung. Alveolar septa have a double capillary network instead of the single network of the developed lung. Only after the maturation of the capillary network can the lung enter a normal phase of growth. Following the early growth in numbers of alveoli there is another stage of the alveoli being enlarged.
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