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Histology Spotlight - Pancreas

The pancreas is an unusual yet fascinating organ as it is dual functioning. It is both an exocrine and endocrine gland.

The exocrine pancreas produces digestive juices containing proteases to help break down proteins, lipases to break down lipids, nucleases to break down DNA and RNA, and amylase to break down starch. These juices enter the duodenum of the small intestine via the pancreatic duct every day.

The endocrine pancreas contains islets of Langerhans, small, scattered pieces of tissue that produce the hormones insulin and glucagon.

So, these are the functions but how does the pancreas appear under a microscope?

The exocrine portion of the pancreas dominates the pancreas and has many serous acini and ducts. The cells are basophilic due to containing rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER). The pancreas has thin connective tissue capsules that are continuous with the connective tissue septum that divides the pancreas into lobules. These lobules look a bit like grapes clustered together with the exocrine portion of the pancreas embedded within.

The rest of the pancreas is endocrine, these islets of Langerhans which produce hormones are scattered throughout so they only occupy a small portion of the entire volume. Histologically these islets stain less intensely than the exocrine portion of the pancreas making it easier to differentiate between both. These cells are also highly vascularised.

The pancreas is a beautiful organ to observe due to its dual functioning and being able to see clearly which parts of the organ have which role under the microscope.

Could you stomach a live post mortem experience?


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