Three‐dimensional analysis of the human pharyngoesophageal sphincter

Derrick R. Randall, MD, MSc ; Daniel J. Cates, MD ; E. Brandon Strong; Peter C. Belafsky, MD, PhD, MPH


© 2019 The American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society

First published: 14 December 2019


Objectives: Dysfunction of the pharyngoesophageal segment (PES) is a common cause of oropharyngeal dysphagia. Surgi- cal dilation of the PES uses cylindrical dilators that expand radially in a circular shape. Animal studies, however, suggest that the PES is kidney-shaped. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the 3D shape of the human PES with a novel cast- ing method.

Methods: A platinum-cured liquid silicone polymer was infused under pressure into the upper aerodigestive tract of nine fresh human cadavers to construct 3D casts of the maximally distended PES. Cross-sectional and volumetric analysis were per- formed using computed tomography and serial sectioning of the models. Canonical variate analysis was used to identify the shape features that best distinguishes the PES from the cervical esophagus.

Results: The mean age of the cadavers was 77.9 (SD 10.6) years, with 67% women. Analysis of the casts confirms that the human PES possesses a kidney-shaped structure at maximal distention, which is discretely different from the adjacent esophagus (P < 0.001). The posterior body of the cricoid cartilage formed the anterior wall of the PES, which provided a rigid structure responsible for preservation of the kidney shape during distention. The diameter of the maximally distended PES at the cricopharyngeus was highly variable (range = 0.86–4.68 cm2; SD = 1.33 cm2).

Conclusion: The data suggest that the human PES is not round and that targeted expansion at the level of the cricopharyngeus with an eccentrically shaped dilator may provide improved distention.

Key Words: Dysphagia, laryngology, pharynx.

Level of Evidence: 4


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