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Pancreatic duct system

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Describe the structure and function of the pancreatic duct system.
  2. Identify the main and accessory pancreatic ducts.
  3. Explain how and where the pancreatic duct system empties into the duodenum.

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The pancreas is a retroperitoneal accessory digestive organ. It has both exocrine functions which participate in the digestion of food, and endocrine functions which serve to regulate blood sugar levels. The pancreas consists of several parts (tail, body, neck, head, uncinate process) all of which are drained by an internal system of excretory ducts which function to drain pancreatic digestive enzymes (pancreatic juices) and bile into the duodenum.

The pancreatic duct (of Wirsung) originates in the pancreatic tail and runs the entire length of the pancreas where it receives the contents of the smaller interlobular ducts. At the head of the pancreas, it converges with the common bile duct to form the hepatopancreatic ampulla (ampulla of Vater). The bile and pancreatic juices are then drained into the duodenum through the major duodenal papilla. The hepatopancreatic sphincter (of Oddi) surrounds the hepatopancreatic ampulla to allow for a controlled flow of pancreatic juices and bile.

The smaller accessory pancreatic duct, when present, drains the head of the pancreas and empties into the duodenum at the minor duodenal papilla.

The following video will help you understand the anatomy and function of the pancreatic duct system:

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Browse atlas

Explore each of the structures you learned about today in the gallery below:


Key points about the pancreatic duct system
Main pancreatic duct (of Wirsung) Extends from tail to head of pancreas
Joins bile duct to form hepatopancreatic ampulla
Drains into duodenum at major duodenal papilla
Accessory pancreatic duct (of Santorini) Arises at head of pancreas
Communicates with main pancreatic duct
Empties into duodenum at minor duodenal papilla
Function Drains pancreatic digestive enzymes and bile into the duodenum where further digestion of food takes place

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