In anatomy, a serous membrane (or serosa) is a smooth membrane consisting of a thin layer of cells, which secrete serous fluid, and a thin connective tissue layer. Serous membranes line and enclose several body cavities, known as serous cavities, where they secrete a lubricating fluid which reduces friction from muscle movement. Serosa is not to be confused with adventitia, a connective tissue layer which binds together structures rather than reducing friction between them.
Each serous membrane is composed of a secretory epithelial layer and a connective tissue layer underneath. The epithelial layer, known as mesothelium, consists of a single layer of avascular flat nucleated cells (simple squamous epithelium) which produce the lubricating serous fluid. This fluid has a consistency similar to thin mucus. These cells are bound tightly to the underlying connective tissue. This connective tissue layer provides the blood vessels and nerves for the overlying secretory cells, and also serves as the binding layer which allows the whole serous membrane to adhere to organs and other structures.
The pericardial cavity (surrounding the heart), pleural cavity (surrounding the lungs) (Figure 2), and peritoneal cavity (surrounding most organs of the abdomen) are the three serous cavities within the human body (Figure 3). While serous membranes have a lubricative role to play in all three cavities, in the pleural cavity it plays a greater role in the function of breathing. The serous cavities are formed from the intraembryonic coelom and are basically an empty space within the body, surrounded by serous membrane. Early in embryonic life, visceral organs develop adjacent to a cavity and invaginate into the bag-like coelom. Therefore, each organ becomes surrounded by serous membrane; they do not lie within the serous cavity. The layer in contact with the organ is known as the visceral layer, while the parietal layer is in contact with the body wall.