The pancreas is a gland organ in the digestive and endocrine system of vertebrates. It is both an endocrine gland producing several important hormones, including insulin, glucagon, and somatostatin, as well as an exocrine gland, secreting pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes that pass to the small intestine. These enzymes help in the further breakdown of the carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the chyme.
Anatomy of the Pancreas & Duodenum
The pancreas has three main sections:
- Head: area of pancreas to right of left border of superior mesenteric vein.
- Body: area of pancreas between left border of superior mesenteric vein and left border of aorta.
- Tail: area of pancreas between left border of aorta and hilum of spleen.
The most common site of primaries is the head of the pancreas. The pancreas has two functional components: endocrine, to produce insulin and other hormones, and exocrine, to produce pancreatic juices for digestion. The pancreas is in direct contact with the stomach, duodenum, spleen, and major vessels of the abdomen.
Head of pancreas
Body of pancreas
Tail of pancreas
Under a microscope, stained sections of the pancreas reveal two different types of parenchymal tissue. Lightly staining clusters of cells are called islets of Langerhans, which produce hormones that underlie the endocrine functions of the pancreas. Darker staining cells form acini connected to ducts. Acinar cells belong to the exocrine pancreas and secrete digestive enzymes into the gut via a system of ducts.
|Islets of Langerhans||Lightly staining, large, spherical clusters||Hormone production and secretion (endocrine pancreas)|
|Pancreatic acini||Darker staining, small, berry-like clusters||Digestive enzyme production and secretion (exocrine pancreas)|
The pancreas is a dual-function gland, having features of both endocrine and exocrine glands.
The part of the pancreas with endocrine function is made up of approximately a million cell clusters called islets of Langerhans. There are four main cell types in the islets. They are relatively difficult to distinguish using standard staining techniques, but they can be classified by their secretion: α cells secrete glucagon, β cells secrete insulin, δ cells secrete somatostatin, and PP cells secrete pancreatic polypeptide.
The islets are a compact collection of endocrine cells arranged in clusters and cords and are crisscrossed by a dense network of capillaries. The capillaries of the islets are lined by layers of endocrine cells in direct contact with vessels, and most endocrine cells are in direct contact with blood vessels, by either cytoplasmic processes or by direct apposition. According to the volume ''The Body,'' by Alan E. Nourse, the islets are "busily manufacturing their hormone and generally disregarding the pancreatic cells all around them, as though they were located in some completely different part of the body."
In contrast to the endocrine pancreas, which secretes hormones into the blood, the exocrine pancreas produces digestive enzymes and an alkaline fluid (referred to as pancreatic juice), and secretes them into the small intestine through a system of exocrine ducts in response to the small intestine hormones secretin and cholecystokinin. Digestive enzymes include trypsin, chymotrypsin, pancreatic lipase, and pancreatic amylase, and are produced and secreted by acinar cells of the exocrine pancreas. Specific cells that line the pancreatic ducts, called centroacinar cells, secrete a bicarbonate- and salt-rich solution into the small intestine.
The pancreas receives regulatory innervation via hormones in the blood and through the autonomic nervous system. These two inputs regulate the secretory activity of the pancreas.
|Sympathetic (adrenergic)||Parasympathetic (muscarinic)|
|α2: decreases secretion from beta cells, increases secretion from alpha cells||M3 increases stimulation from alpha cells and beta cell|
Because the pancreas is a storage depot for digestive enzymes, injury to the pancreas is potentially very dangerous. A puncture of the pancreas generally requires prompt and experienced medical intervention.
An incision into the pancreas is known as a pancreatotomy.
The pancreas was first identified by Herophilus (335-280 BC), a Greek anatomist and surgeon. Only a few hundred years later, Ruphos, another Greek anatomist, gave the pancreas its name.
Pancreas Embryological Development
from a dorsal and a ventral bud. During maturation the ventral bud flips to the other side of the gut tube (arrow) where it typically fuses with the dorsal lobe. An additional ventral lobe which usually regress during development is omitted.
The pancreas forms from the embryonic foregut and is therefore of endodermal origin. Pancreatic development begins the formation of a ventral and dorsal anlage (or buds). Each structure communicates with the foregut through a duct. The ventral pancreatic bud becomes the head and uncinate process, and comes from the hepatic diverticulum.
Differential rotation and fusion of the ventral and dorsal pancreatic buds results in the formation of the definitive pancreas. As the duodenum rotates to the right, it carries with it the ventral pancreatic bud and common bile duct. Upon reaching its final destination, the ventral pancreatic bud fuses with the much larger dorsal pancreatic bud. At this point of fusion, the main ducts of the ventral and dorsal pancreatic buds fuse, forming the duct of Wirsung, the main pancreatic duct.
Differentiation of cells of the pancreas proceeds through two different pathways, corresponding to the dual endocrine and exocrine functions of the pancreas. In progenitor cells of the exocrine pancreas, important molecules that induce differentiation include follistatin, fibroblast growth factors, and activation of the Notch receptor system.
In teleosts, and a few other species (such as rabbits), there is no discrete pancreas at all, with pancreatic tissue being distributed diffusely across the mesentery and even within other nearby organs, such as the liver or spleen. In a few teleost species, the endocrine tissue has fused to form a distinct gland within the abdominal cavity, but otherwise it is distributed amongst the exocrine components. The most primitive arrangement, however, appears to be that of lampreys and lungfish, in which pancreatic tissue is found as a number of discrete nodules within the wall of the gut itself, with the exocrine portions being little different from other glandular structures of the intestine.
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Last Updated: Dec 27, 2013