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Small Intestine Human, 200X H&E
The small intestine or small bowel is the part of the gastrointestinal tract between the stomach and the large intestine, and is where most of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. The small intestine has three distinct regions: the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum. The duodenum receives bile and pancreatic juice through the pancreatic duct, controlled by the sphincter of Oddi. The primary function of the small intestine is the absorption of nutrients and minerals from food. The inner wall, or mucosa, of the small intestine is lined with simple columnar epithelial tissue. Structurally, the mucosa is covered in wrinkles or folds called plicae circulares, which are considered permanent features in the wall of the organ. They are distinct from rugae which are considered non-permanent or temporary allowing for distention and contraction. From the plicae circulares project microscopic finger-like pieces of tissue called villi (Latin for “shaggy hair”). The individual epithelial cells also have finger-like projections known as microvilli. The functions of the plicae circulares, the villi, and the microvilli are to increase the amount of surface area available for the absorption of nutrients, and to limit the loss of said nutrients to intestinal fauna. Each villus has a network of capillaries and fine lymphatic vessels called lacteals close to its surface. The epithelial cells of the villi transport nutrients from the lumen of the intestine into these capillaries (amino acids and carbohydrates) and lacteals (lipids). The absorbed substances are transported via the blood vessels to different organs of the body where they are used to build complex substances such as the proteins required by our body. The material that remains undigested and unabsorbed passes into the large intestine.