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Salivary Acini

Discover the fascinating world of salivary acini and their crucial role in your oral health, uncovering their functions and the secrets behind their production.

USMLE Guide: Salivary Acini


Salivary acini are small structures found within the salivary glands that play a crucial role in the production and secretion of saliva. This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of salivary acini, their structure, function, and clinical significance.

Salivary Glands

Salivary glands are exocrine glands responsible for producing and secreting saliva into the oral cavity. There are three major pairs of salivary glands in humans: the parotid glands, submandibular glands, and sublingual glands. These glands are composed of various cell types, including the salivary acini.

Structure of Salivary Acini

Salivary acini are the primary functional units of the salivary glands. They are spheroidal or pyramidal structures located at the terminal portions of the salivary ducts. Each acinus consists of secretory cells arranged in a grape-like cluster. The cells are cuboidal or columnar in shape and are surrounded by myoepithelial cells.

Types of Salivary Acini

There are three main types of salivary acini, each with distinct characteristics:

  1. Serous Acini: These acini contain serous cells that produce a watery secretion rich in enzymes, such as amylase. Serous acini are mostly found in the parotid glands.

  2. Mucous Acini: Mucous acini contain mucous cells that produce a thick and viscous secretion called mucus. Mucus helps lubricate and protect the oral cavity. Mucous acini are predominantly present in the sublingual glands.

  3. Mixed Acini: Mixed acini contain a combination of serous and mucous cells, producing both watery and viscous secretions. These acini are mainly found in the submandibular glands.

Functions of Salivary Acini

Salivary acini play several important roles in oral health and digestion:

  1. Secretion of Saliva: Salivary acini produce and secrete saliva, which is essential for lubricating the oral cavity, facilitating speech, and aiding in the initial digestion of carbohydrates through the action of salivary amylase.

  2. Regulation of pH: Saliva secreted by the salivary acini helps maintain the pH balance in the mouth, preventing dental caries and maintaining oral health.

  3. Antibacterial Properties: Saliva contains antimicrobial components that help protect against oral infections, thanks to the secretions of salivary acini.

Clinical Significance

Understanding salivary acini is important in the context of various clinical conditions:

  1. Salivary Gland Disorders: Dysfunction or pathology affecting the salivary acini can lead to salivary gland disorders, such as sialadenitis (inflammation of salivary glands), salivary gland tumors, or salivary gland stones (sialolithiasis).

  2. Sjögren's Syndrome: This autoimmune disorder primarily affects the salivary glands, leading to reduced saliva production and dry mouth. Salivary acini may be affected, resulting in impaired secretory function.

  3. Salivary Gland Imaging: Radiological imaging techniques, such as ultrasound or MRI, can help visualize the salivary glands and detect abnormalities within the salivary acini.


Salivary acini are crucial components of the salivary glands, responsible for producing and secreting saliva. Understanding their structure, function, and clinical significance is essential for a comprehensive understanding of oral health, digestion, and various salivary gland disorders.

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