any of the ringlike muscles surrounding and able to contract or close a bodily passage or opening. One of the most important human sphincter muscles is the sphincter pylori, a thickening of the middle layer of stomach muscle around the pylorus (opening into the small intestine) that holds food in the stomach until it is thoroughly mixed with gastric juices. Other sphincters are involved in excretion of waste: the sphincter ani externus keeps the anal opening closed by its normal contraction, and the sphincter urethrae is the most important voluntary control of urination. There is also a sphincter in the eye, the sphincter pupillae, a ring of fibres in the iris that contracts the pupil in the presence of bright light. Compare dilator muscle.
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