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Salivary glands

Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Name and describe the three largest salivary glands.
  2. List the special features of the salivary glands and identify them in histological images.

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The salivary glands are exocrine glands responsible for the production and secretion of saliva. The three largest are the parotid gland, the sublingual gland and the submandibular gland.

The salivary glands are composed of two main cell types: serous and mucous cells. Serous cells produce a watery secretion rich in enzymes such as amylase, while mucous cells produce a viscous, mucous secretion. The secretory cells are organized into secretory units (acini), small gland-like structures that empty into branched intralobular circuits as well as into extralobular ducts.

The parotid gland is purely serous with distinct striated and intercalated ducts. Many fat cells can also be found in the parenchyma, of which the presence increases with age. The sublingual gland is a mixed seromucous gland, with a predominance of mucous cells. Serous demilunes (von Ebner) help flush out the mucus produced. The striated and intercalated ducts of the sublingual gland are very short, which is why they are often not visible in histological images. The submandibular gland is mixed seromucous, but has a higher proportion of serous cells. Here too, there are serous demilunes (von Ebner) that are superimposed on the mucous tubules.

The duct system is important not only for the transport but also for the modification of saliva. It absorbs ions and water, affecting the composition of the final saliva.

Watch the following video to learn more about the histological features of the largest salivary gland, the parotid gland:

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Browse atlas

Ready to review all these structures in further detail? Browse our image galleries below:

Parotid gland

Sublingual gland

Submandibular gland

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