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Histology Of The Pancreas

Discover the intricate histology of the pancreas and unravel its secrets to better understand its crucial role in digestion and hormone regulation.

Histology of the Pancreas



The pancreas is a vital organ located in the abdominal cavity. It plays a crucial role in digestion and the regulation of blood glucose levels. Understanding the histology of the pancreas is essential for medical professionals, especially those preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the histological features of the pancreas.

Structure of the Pancreas

The pancreas is composed of two primary components: exocrine and endocrine tissue.

Exocrine Tissue

The exocrine tissue constitutes the majority of the pancreas and is responsible for producing digestive enzymes. It consists of acinar cells, which form the acini, and duct cells. Acinar cells synthesize and secrete pancreatic enzymes into the pancreatic ducts, while duct cells modify and transport the produced enzymes.

Endocrine Tissue

The endocrine tissue of the pancreas is scattered throughout the exocrine tissue and consists of specialized islets, also known as islets of Langerhans. These islets contain different cell types, each secreting specific hormones. The main cell types within the islets are:

  1. Alpha Cells: These cells produce glucagon, a hormone that increases blood sugar levels.
  2. Beta Cells: Beta cells secrete insulin, a hormone responsible for reducing blood sugar levels.
  3. Delta Cells: Delta cells produce somatostatin, which inhibits the release of other hormones.
  4. PP Cells: PP cells secrete pancreatic polypeptide, which regulates pancreatic and gastrointestinal functions.

Histological Features

Exocrine Tissue

  1. Acinar Cells: These are pyramidal-shaped cells forming grape-like clusters called acini. Acinar cells have a basophilic cytoplasm due to abundant rough endoplasmic reticulum (RER) and zymogen granules, which contain inactive digestive enzymes.
  2. Duct Cells: Duct cells line the pancreatic ducts and have a cuboidal or columnar shape. They possess a pale-staining cytoplasm and may display microvilli. Duct cells secrete bicarbonate-rich fluid, which neutralizes the acidic chyme entering the duodenum.

Endocrine Tissue

  1. Alpha Cells: These cells are typically larger and more pale-staining than other islet cells. They contain glucagon granules, which appear electron-dense.
  2. Beta Cells: Beta cells are smaller and stain darker than alpha cells. They contain insulin granules, which appear electron-dense as well.
  3. Delta Cells: Delta cells are generally smaller and more sparse than alpha and beta cells. They contain numerous secretory granules, giving them a granular appearance.
  4. PP Cells: PP cells are the least abundant islet cells and can be found dispersed among the other cell types. They contain numerous secretory granules, similar to delta cells.


Understanding the histology of the pancreas is crucial for medical professionals, especially when diagnosing and treating pancreatic disorders. Familiarity with the structure and function of the exocrine and endocrine tissue, including the different cell types within the islets of Langerhans, is essential for success in the USMLE.

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