Body membranes are thin sheets of tissue that cover the body, line body cavities, and cover organs within the cavities in hollow organs. They can be categorized into epithelial and connective tissue membrane.
Epithelial membranes consist of epithelial tissue and the connective tissue to which it is attached. The two main types of epithelial membranes are the mucous membranes and serous membranes.
Mucous membranes are epithelial membranes that consist of epithelial tissue that is attached to an underlying loose connective tissue. These membranes, sometimes called [glossary term:] mucosae, line the body cavities that open to the outside. The entire digestive tract is lined with mucous membranes. Other examples include the respiratory, excretory, and reproductive tracts.
Serous membranes line body cavities that do not open directly to the outside, and they cover the organs located in those cavities. Serous membranes are covered by a thin layer of serous fluid that is secreted by the epithelium. Serous fluid lubricates the membrane and reduces friction and abrasion when organs in the thoracic or abdominopelvic cavity move against each other or the cavity wall. Serous membranes have special names given according to their location. For example, the serous membrane that lines the thoracic cavity and covers the lungs is called [glossary term:] pleura.
Connective Tissue Membranes
Connective tissue membranes contain only connective tissue. Synovial membranes and meninges belong to this category.
Synovial membranes are connective tissue membranes that line the cavities of the freely movable joints such as the shoulder, elbow, and knee. Like serous membranes, they line cavities that do not open to the outside. Unlike serous membranes, they do not have a layer of epithelium. Synovial membranes secrete synovial fluid into the joint cavity, and this lubricates the cartilage on the ends of the bones so that they can move freely and without friction.
The connective tissue covering on the brain and spinal cord, within the dorsal cavity, are called meninges. They provide protection for these vital structures.