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You are watching: Which best describes the exocrine glands?

StatPearls . Sweetheart Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-.



A gland is a practical unit that cells that works with each other to create and release a product into a duct or directly to the bloodstream. Two principal varieties of glands exist: exocrine and also endocrine. The crucial difference in between the two species is that, whereas exocrine glands secrete substances right into a ductal device to one epithelial surface, endocrine glands secrete commodities directly into the bloodstream <1>. Exocrine secretions form in the acinus, a small cluster of cells at the origination the glandular ducts. Exocrine glands subclassify into subtypes based upon the an approach of secretion, the compound produced, or the shape of the gland.

Issues that Concern

This post will discuss:

Various cell species found in ~ the exocrine gland, and also their functions
Embryologic development of exocrine glands
Organ systems influenced by exocrine physiology
Functions of exocrine glands
Related clinical testing
Pathophysiology of exocrine glands
Significant clinical aspects


Exocrine glands are consisted of of an acinus and a duct with various cell types, respectively. These glands are discovered in plenty of organs within the body and also demonstrate a big variety in the function of their secretions.  together such, a wide variety of cell types exists in exocrine glands.

While the duct features primarily to transport glandular secretions, the acinus is responsible for the manufacturing of glandular secretions, and as such, shows an ext variety in cellular composition. Typical cell types within the acinus incorporate serous, mucinous, or sebaceous.

Mucinous glands secrete mucus, a usual example gift Brunner glands in the duodenum.
Sebaceous glands secrete sebum, one oily compound. Sebaceous glands are most prevalent in the face, scalp, groin, and armpits. Cell varieties can be identified histologically together well.  Mucous cells commonly stain lighter than their serous counterparts as soon as stained with hematoxylin and also eosin.

As ducts relocate from the acinus toward the final target, secretions initially enter the intralobular duct. Intralobular ducts have a basic cuboidal epithelium generally surrounded by parenchyma. Intralobular ducts drainpipe into interlobular ducts, which room a simple columnar epithelium. The last ductal unit is the interlobar duct known by a stratified columnar epithelium. Connective tissue surrounds both interlobular and also interlobar ducts.


The initial manifestation the exocrine gland formation is epithelial budding resulting from a complex interaction between mesenchymal and also epithelial cabinet populations <3>. This initial period of ingrowth is affected by fibroblast growth factors, most notably FGF10 and cadherin-2 <4>. Other transcription determinants that have been shown to add to epithelial budding encompass HlxB9, Isl1, LEF-1, Msx1/2, Pbx1, Pdx1, and also Tbx3 <5>.

Following the initial formation of the epithelial bud, ductal elongation occurs. This procedure undergoes mediation through a huge group of molecular signal such together Netrin-1, TIMP1, amphiregulin, IGF1, and also leukemia inhibitory factor <5>. Number of matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) contribute assistance through basement membrane renewal and facilitate ductal elongation <6><7>. After an initial period of ductal elongation, the exocrine gland begins to type ductal branches. NF-kappa-B is believed to beat a role <8>, as well as sonic hedgehog and also Wnts <3>. As the duct begins to elongate, the acinus experience a period of cabinet proliferation and also differentiation. Due come the huge variety in exocrine gland function, the exact number of cellular signals and interactions is immense. In general, however, a large role exists for cell adhesion molecule such as laminin and also cadherins <9>.

Exocrine morphogenesis is a quick process. Ductal elongation and branching commonly occur in much less than a week, with acini formation occurring 5 come 9 job later <10><11>. In a relatively short developmental period, exocrine glands type and can start secreting a functional product.

Organ equipment Involved

Due come the diverse number and duty of epithelial surfaces in the body, countless organ equipment utilize exocrine glands to bring out their particular actions. Several instances will be had here, consisting of skin, mouth, stomach, pancreas, duodenum, and also breasts. 


The skin has actually a selection of exocrine glands, including the eccrine sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Eccrine sweat glands are the many widespread sweat gland in the body and also are present on virtually every exterior body surface. The sweat created is clear with tiny to no oil, in comparison to sebaceous glands, also found top top the skin, i m sorry secretes the much more oily substance sebum.  

Salivary Glands

The salivary glands in the mouth are an additional example that exocrine glands and also include the parotid glands, submandibular glands, and also sublingual glands. While each gland has a unique mixture of serous and mucous cells, together, the salient glands act to start the process of food cradle while also lubricating and also protecting the mucosal surfaces.


The stomach hold multiple varieties of exocrine glands that include pyloric glands, cardiac glands, and fundic glands. These glands incorporate numerous different cabinet types, including parietal cells, cook cells, and G cells. Together they control the gastric pH, relax enzymes to break down food commodities to a digestible form, and assist v the absorb of essential vitamins and also minerals.  


The pancreas has actually both an endocrine and an exocrine function. The exocrine pancreas assists in food digestion by release a secretion affluent in bicarbonate, which help to neutralize the acidic environment produced in the stomach. The secretion additionally includes digestive enzymes.


Brunner glands are current in the duodenum the the small intestine. This exocrine glands are submucosal and also produce a mucous product the protects the duodenum from mountain released native the stomach. The alkaline nature that the secretion also activates intestinal enzymes to assist with food failure and absorption.


The mammary gland is among the most well-known instances of an exocrine gland found in the breast. Mammary glands produce milk well-off in nutrients that likewise provides passive immunity to a baby’s immune system.


The specific function of exocrine glands in ~ the body varies through location and organ system. However, the primary role is to develop a cheap which consequently gets released v a ductal mechanism onto an epithelial surface. Examples encompass secretions that aid in food digestion, mucosal protection, thermoregulation, lubrication, and also nutrition.


The 3 mechanisms whereby exocrine glands relax their secretions encompass merocrine, apocrine, and holocrine.

Merocrine glands are the most typical subtype. By definition, merocrine gland secretions exit the cell via exocytosis. In this technique of secretion, there is no cell damage. An instance of merocrine cheap is the eccrine sweat gland. 
Apocrine glands, in contrast, type buds the the membrane which break off into the duct, losing part of the moving membrane in the process. A well-known apocrine gland is the breastmilk-producing mammary gland. 
The final subtype that excretion is holocrine, in i beg your pardon the to move membrane ruptures to release its product into the duct. Sebaceous glands space a depiction of holocrine secretion.

Related Testing

In general, trial and error for an individual exocrine gland role is no performed. However, dysfunction that exocrine glands can develop a wide range of clinical manifestations.

Imaging might be perform to confirm a diagnosis of blocked glands. Sialolithiasis refers to instances where a rock becomes lodged within the outstanding gland or duct, and also sialoadenitis describes inflammation that the gland. CT and also ultrasound are reliable methods of identifying and localizing stones <12>.

The liver itself acts as an exocrine gland as soon as creating and excreting bile to it is in stored in the gallbladder, awaiting expulsion and also release with the pancreatic duct right into the duodenum. Obstruction, at any allude in this pathway, can cause cholecystitis because of inflammation and dysfunction the the gallbladder. Ultrasound is the early diagnostic check to diagnose cholecystitis <13>.

In cystic fibrosis, sodium and chloride room not reabsorbed in ~ the sweat duct because of a dysfunctional CFTR protein, causing abnormally salty skin. The sweat chloride test is the major test because that the diagnosis the cystic fibrosis <14>.

Pancreatic insufficiency occurs once the exocrine glands that the pancreas are no much longer able to produce the digestive enzymes vital for food failure in the tiny intestine. Typical etiologies encompass chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, and also hereditary hemochromatosis. Number of methods deserve to be supplied to evaluate the duty of the exocrine pancreas. Fat malabsorption can lead come deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Thus, vitamin levels have the right to be used to calculation pancreatic function <15>. Fecal elastase-1 experimentation is another method with fairly high specificity and sensitivity. Short levels of fecal elastase-1 show a poorly work exocrine pancreas <16>. The most sensitive diagnostic an approach for exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, however, is utilizing straight pancreatic function tests such as the cholecystokinin (CCK) or secretin stimulation test <17>.


Sjogren Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is commonly linked with rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. The syndrome is one autoimmune disorder that demonstrates lessened lacrimal and also salivary gland duty that can additionally have connected systemic symptoms <18><19>. The disease is identified by eye and also mouth dryness due to the gland dysfunction.  because of mouth dryness, patients through Sjogren syndrome present increased prices of oral candidiasis and also dental caries <18><20>. 

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an autosomal recessive condition that causes impaired chloride transport due to a mutation the the CFTR protein.  since CFTR is connected in the manufacturing of sweat, mucus, and also digestive fluids, the mutation reasons a straight effect on exocrine gland secretions.  Indeed, roughly 90% of babies born with cystic fibrosis will build pancreatic insufficiency through one year of age <21>.

Acne vulgaris

The prevalence of acne is an estimated 35 come 90% in adolescents <22>. The disorder influence the pilosebaceous unit, of i beg your pardon sebaceous glands are an example. The pathogenesis is multifactorial and often requires hyperkeratinization the the follicle, raised sebum production, and proliferation of Propionibacterium acnes with linked inflammation. As sebum accumulates, an open comedo forms, likewise known together a white head. Hyperkeratinization and increased sebum production result in clogging the the pores of the pilosebaceous unit. As the lipids within sebum oxidize, the follicular orifice opens, creating an open comedo, or blackhead.

Treatment because that acne mostly depends ~ above the severity of inflammation symptoms, however topical retinoids are usually the first-line treatment, although antimicrobial agents are secondary option for refractory cases <23>. For severe situations of nodulocystic acne or for patients who have actually failed treatment through systemic antibiotics, oral isotretinoin the therapeutic choice <24>.

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Clinical Significance

The exocrine gland have the right to be uncovered in numerous organs and serves a wide variety of features within the body. Due to this fact, an understanding of the physiology the exocrine glands is crucial for healthcare workers. Exocrine glands play a crucial role in the physiology of countless organ systems from the skin come the pancreas, providing the body with a technique to relax secretions comprise proteins, mucus, and other assets to epithelial surfaces approximately the body. Owing to your varied and also essential roles, the dysfunction of exocrine glands is linked with illness as wide-ranging as acne vulgaris come Sjogren syndrome.

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