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Structure of the small intestine

The walls of the small intestine are composed of the four layers of tissue shown in Figure 12.2. Some modifications of the peritoneum and mucosa (mucous membrane lining) are described below.

Peritoneum.A double layer of peritoneum called the mesentery attaches the jejunum and ileum to the posterior abdominal wall (see Fig. 12.ÇÀ). The attachment is quite short in comparison with the length of the small intestine, therefore it is fan shaped. The large blood vessels and nerves lie on the posterior abdominal wall and the branches to the small intestine pass between the two layers of the mesentery.

Mucosa.The surface area of the small intestine mucosa is greatly increased by permanent circular folds, villi and microvilli.

The permanent circular folds, unlike the rugae of the stomach, are not smoothed out when the small intestine is distended (Fig. 12.26). They promote mixing of chyme as it passes along.

The villi are tiny finger-like projections of the mucosal layer into the intestinal lumen, about 0.5 to 1 mm long

Fig. 12.27). Their walls consist of columnar epithelial cells, or enterocytes, with tiny microvilli on their free border. Goblet cells that secrete mucus are interspersed between the enterocytes. These epithelial cells enclose a network of blood and lymph capillaries.

The lymph capillaries are called lacteals because absorbed fat gives the lymph a milky appearance. Absorption and some final stages of digestion of nutrients take place in the enterocytes before entering the blood and lymph capillaries.

The intestinal glands are simple tubular glands situated below the surface between the villi. The cells of the glands migrate upwards to form the walls of the villi replacing those at the tips as they are rubbed off by the intestinal contents. The entire epithelium is replaced every 3 to 5 days. During migration, the cells form digestive enzymes that lodge in the microvilli and, together with intestinal juice, complete the chemical digestion of carbohydrates, protein and fats.

Numerous lymph nodes are found in the mucosa at irregular intervals throughout the length of the small intestine. The smaller ones are known as solitary lymphatic follicles, and about 20 or 30 larger nodes situated towards the distal end of the ileum are called aggregated lymphatic follicles (Peyer's patches, Fig. 12.26). These lymphatic tis­sues, packed with defensive cells, are strategically placed to neutralise ingested antigens.

Intestinal juice

About 1500 ml of intestinal juice are secreted daily by the glands of the small intestine. It consists of:

• water

• mucus

• mineral salts.

The pH of intestinal juice is usually between 7.8 and 8.0.


Date: 2015-12-24; view: 714


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