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Sweat glands

Learning objectives

This study unit will help you to:

  1. Learn about the different sweat glands in the human body
  2. Explain the structure and functions of sweat glands

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Sweat glands are exocrine glands which are located across the body except for parts of the lips and penis/clitoris. 

Eccrine sweat glands are found almost everywhere in the skin and are most densely concentrated on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. They are simple (i.e. unbranching), coiled, tubular structures, which extend deep into the dermis or underlying subcutaneous tissue. The coiled secretory region contains large columnar glandular cells, which are surrounded by myoepithelial cells that expel the secretion towa. An excretory duct, formed of cuboidal epithelial cells, leaves the secretory region and ascends the dermis into the epidermis, where it looses its epithelial wall. Eccrine sweat glands assist in thermoregulation and also serve to excrete water, salts, ammonia, uric acid etc.

Apocrine sweat glands are larger and are mainly confined to the axillae, nipples and anogenital region. They bear large secretory regions which consist of cuboidal glandular cells which enclose wide, dilated lumens. Similar to eccrine glands, myoepithelial cells surround the secretory portion. Their excretory ducts are short and do not open directly onto the surface of the skin, but rather into a hair follicle. Apocrine glands produce a viscous, milky secretion which which aqcuires an unpleasant odor, once broken down by bacteria. 

Note: certain, more recent, sources now also define a third type of sweat gland, known as apoeccrine glands. As their name suggests, they bear properties typical of both apocrine and eccrine glands (e.g. like apocrine glands, they are largely confined to the axillae/anogential region, however their excretory ducts empty onto the skin, like eccrine glands)

Learn more about these glands in the video below!

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Browse atlas

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