Teaching Innovations: A Novel Use of Second Life™ (SL) Technology

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Presenter Last Name: 
Richardson, PhD
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A Novel Use of Second Life™ (SL) Technology to Teach the Pterygopalatine Fossa to Medical Students

Second Life™ (SL) is a web-based, 3D virtual world where real people are represented by avatars (shown on the right) and virtual space (land) is housed on islands. In SL, users can create 3D objects using the modeling tools within the program. This 3D capability is beneficial for visualizing difficult anatomical regions, as the avatar may move in and out of the parameters of the structure for a comprehensive understanding of the region.

The pterygopalatine fossa (PPF) is an example of a difficult region in anatomy; the PPF is a pyramidal-shaped region located immediately below the apex of the orbit and medial to the infratemporal fossa. This small space is often referred to as the shape of an inverted cone, with the tapering portion of the cone pointed inferiorly toward the oral cavity. The PPF contains the maxillary nerve (V2), the pterygopalatine portion of the maxillary artery, and the pterygopalatine ganglion. This small space communicates with the orbit, cranial cavity, infratemporal fossa, nasal cavity, and oral cavity.

The borders of the PPF contain foramina/canals that allow this region to communicate with various spaces within the head. Specific branches of V2 are transmitted through these openings to provide sensory innervations for their respective regions. The following table correlates these openings to the specific sides of the inverted cone, which represents the direction in which these openings are found within the PPF.  

Opening to/from PPF
Transmitted nerve(s)
Anterior, Superior
Infraorbital fissure (onto face via infraorbital foramen)
Infraorbital n.
Cranial cavity
Foramen rotundum, Pterygoid canal
Maxillary n. *Nerve of the pterygoid canal (Vidian n.)
Infratemporal fossa
Pterygomaxillary fissure
Nasal cavity
Sphenopalatine foramen
Nasopalatine n.
Oral cavity
Greater/lesser palatine canals, (into oral cavity via Greater/lesser palatine foramina)
Greater/lesser palatine nn.

*This nerve is not a branch of V2, as it forms from the junction of the greater petrosal nerve (pre-ganglionic parasympathetic fibers from CN VII) and the deep petrosal nerve (post-ganglionic sympathetic fibers) to provide autonomic innervation to the mucosal glands in the nasal/oral cavities and to the lacrimal gland (via a communicating branch from the zygomatic nerve of V2 to the lacrimal nerve of V1).

The following picture illustrates the SL construction of the PPF as it relates to the shape of an inverted cone. The various nerves that are transmitted through this region are illustrated by yellow cylindrical shapes and are named accordingly. The lateral border of the PPF communicates with the infratemporal fossa via the pterygomaxillary fissure. The pterygopalatine ganglion (circle) is shown within the fossa and is the site of synapse for preganglionic parasympathetic fibers traveling from the greater petrosal nerve and nerve of the pterygoid canal.

A closer view of the illustration (below) highlights the anterior border of the PPF as it communicates with the orbit through the infraorbital fissure. Various branches from the infraorbital nerve include the posterior, middle, and anterior superior alveolar nerves and the zygomatic nerve.

The medial border of the PPF communicates with the nasal cavity via the sphenopalatine foramen (shown below).

Lastly, the posterior border of the PPF communicates with the cranial cavity via the foramen rotundum (transmitting V2) and the pterygoid canal (transmitting the nerve of the pterygoid canal).


The illustration above depicts the nerves off the PPF in context with the bony parameters. Basic geometric shapes were used to construct the sphenoid (green), maxilla (purple), and palatine (pink) bones. This model is located adjacent to the isolated cone model on the roof of the virtual anatomy building on UK’s island in SL.

To sign up for a free avatar, visit www.secondlife.com. The following SLURL address will teleport your avatar directly to the virtual anatomy lab (the PPF structure is located on the roof of the virtual anatomy lab): http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/University%20of%20KY/149/50/28

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