Pancreatic Acinar Cells: Definition & Function

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  • 0:03 What Is the Pancreas?
  • 0:51 Digestion Review
  • 1:40 Pancreatic Acinar Cells
  • 2:24 Protection from Acid
  • 3:31 Could You Survive…
  • 4:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Phenix
In this lesson, we'll review the basics of the digestive process, go over the function of the pancreas, and explore the role of pancreatic acinar cells in breaking down food without breaking down our own tissues.

What Is the Pancreas?

When we think of digestion, we tend to think solely of the stomach. Food goes in mouth, then to the stomach, done. But there are actually a number of factors and organs involved, one of which is the pancreas.

Where and what is the pancreas? The pancreas is a long and flat organ nestled just behind the stomach. Now, you may not be readily familiar with the pancreas (because who ever hears anyone yell, 'Ow! My pancreas!'), but it's a supremely vital organ. It both synthesizes insulin, which manages our glucose levels and releases digestive cells into our intestine. This latter part is called the exocrine function. Pancreatic acinar cells are part of this exocrine function, but let's back up and get into more detail.

Digestion Review

Okay, so now that we know what the pancreas is, let's talk a little bit about its place in the digestive process.

Digestion actually comes in two forms: chemical digestion and mechanical digestion. When you bite into an apple, your saliva starts to chemically digest the carbohydrates, while your teeth begin to mechanically chew your food into smaller, more manageable pieces. Once you swallow, the mashed apple makes its way down your esophagus and into your stomach where the digestive fun continues. Your stomach is a muscular organ that contracts and churns its contents (mechanical) while also bathing the apple mush in digestive enzymes and stomach acid (chemical). Your gastric acids have a pH of 1.5. Compare this with battery acid which has a pH of 1!

Pancreatic Acinar Cells

The stomach gets things started, but the majority of proteins are digested by enzymes produced by the pancreas. The pancreas produces exocrine fluids, collectively called pancreatic fluids that contain these enzymes. Within this pancreatic fluid, you'll find powerful enzymatic secretions which are the work of your pancreatic acinar cells. Pancreatic acinar cells are the cells responsible for the synthesis, secretion, and storage of certain digestive enzymes. These enzymes break down food even further, making them small enough that they can be absorbed by the body. These enzymes, in their active form, are so strong that they can easily break down meats, cheeses, fats, and all those cellulose vegetables that your mother makes you eat.

Protection From Acid

So how does your body protect itself from stomach acid and enzymes eating away at your own tissue?

While digestive enzymes are secreted by the acinar cells, bicarbonate is secreted from the epithelial cells that line the small pancreatic ducts.Bicarbonate is a vital neutralizing agent, without which that amazingly strong stomach acid would move into your small intestine and burn a hole right through your tissue. Eesh! Thank you bicarbonate!

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