Cranial meninges

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 3 Apr 2023

The cranial meninges (singular: meninx) surround the brain and are made up of four layers (from outermost to innermost):

  1. dura mater

  2. arachnoid mater

  3. subarachnoid lymphatic-like membrane

  4. pia mater

The dura mater can also be known as the pachymeninx. The arachnoid mater and pia mater are collectively known as the leptomeninges 3. The spinal meninges are similar but have some important differences. 

The meninges function to protect the brain but also provide a framework for blood vessels, nerves, lymphatics and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) 2.

There are two so-called potential spaces:

  • epidural (extradural) space: between the bone of the cranium and the outer layer of the dura mater

  • subdural space: between the inner layer of the dura mater and the arachnoid mater; this is not a true potential space as the two layers are fused, albeit closely, by the dural border zone and hematomas actually occur within this space 5

Traditionally, one CSF-containing space, subarachnoid space, is described located between the arachnoid and pia mater. Recently, however, a thin additional layer, the subarachnoid lymphatic-like membrane, divides this space into two compartments 6.

There are several arteries that supply the dura with the middle meningeal artery being the main contributor.

The sensory innervation of the meninges is primarily by meningeal branches of both the trigeminal and vagus nerves with a smaller contribution from the upper cervical spinal nerves.

The word meninges, is the plural of meninx, from the Classical Greek μηνιγξ (transliteration: meninx) and literally means membrane 7. ​

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