This article – the 3rd in a six-part series on the gastrointestinal street – defines chemical digestion in the duodenum and also the duty by the liver and also pancreas in this process. It additionally discusses typical pathologies of these three materials of the cradle tract


After that is passage with the stomach, ingested food turned into acidic chyme come in the first segment of the tiny intestine, a U-shaped tube dubbed the duodenum. The duodenum produce hormones and also receives secretions from the liver (bile) and pancreas (pancreatic juice containing cradle enzymes). These miscellaneous hormones, fluids and also enzymes facilitate chemical digestion in the duodenum while additionally ensuring the mountain of chyme coming from the stomach is neutralised. This is crucial to protect against autodigestion and also corrosive damage to the lining the the gut. This article, the 3rd in a six-part collection exploring the gastrointestinal tract, describes the anatomy, functions and common pathologies of the duodenum, liver and also pancreas.

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Citation: knight J et al (2019) Gastrointestinal street 3: the duodenum, liver and also pancreas. Nursing Times ; 115: 8, 56-60.

Authors: man Knight is associate professor in biomedical science; Nikki Williams is associate professor in respiratory tract physiology; Yamni Nigam is professor in biomedical science; every at the university of human Health and also Sciences, Swansea University.

This write-up has been double-blind peer reviewed


Part 1 and component 2 in our series about the gastrointestinal (GI) street looked at the function of the mouth, oesophagus and also stomach in mechanical and also chemical digestion. This third part of the series covers the anatomy and duty of the duodenum – the an initial segment that the little intestine – and also the role of the two significant accessory organs of digestion, the liver and also the pancreas. It additionally describes typical pathologies that impact these parts of the GI tract.

Anatomy the the duodenum

The duodenum (Fig 1) is U-shaped and approximately 25-38cm lengthy (Lopez and Khorasani-Zadeh, 2019). It consists of four regions:

Superior region: one enlarged top area of around 2cm dubbed the duodenal bulb, which proceeds the pyloric sphincter and is connected to the liver through the hepatoduodenal ligament;Descending region: this extends downwards right into the abdominal muscle cavity from the remarkable duodenal flexure; approximately halfway down is the major duodenal papilla, the entry allude of the usual bile duct and pancreatic duct, i m sorry fuse prior to entering the duodenum. The entry of bile and also pancreatic juice right into the duodenum is regulated by a little ring that muscle, the sphincter the Oddi;Horizontal or transverse region: the biggest section that the duodenum (10-12cm long) and also the key area of mineral absorption;Ascending region: this overcome slightly upwards right into the ab cavity prior to connecting to the jejunum at the duodenojejunal flexure.


Source: Peter Lamb

The duodenum is generally a region of chemical digestion. That receives secretions from the liver and also pancreas, and its mucosa contains big numbers the mucus-producing (goblet) cells and Brunner’s glands, i beg your pardon secrete a watery liquid that is rich in mucus and bicarbonate ions. As in the stomach (see component 2), rubber acts as a protective barrier against autodigestion and lubricates the i of chyme.

The mucosal lining the the duodenum also contains tall columnar epithelial cells and extends into circular folds and finger-like projections (villi), which rise the surface ar area because that nutrient absorption. However, nutrient absorption is no the duodenum’s speciality and also occurs mainly additional down the small intestine in the jejunum and ileum, whereby the villi room longer, an ext numerous and also found at higher density.

Hormone manufacturing in the duodenum

The pyloric sphincter, which separates the stomach and also duodenum, periodically opens to release small portions that acidic chyme (see component 2). This sudden increase in acidity stimulates the relax of several hormones including:

Secretin;Cholecystokinin;Gastric inhibitory polypeptide (GIP);Vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP).Secretin

Secretin, a peptide hormone making up 27 amino acids, is secreted by the entero-endocrine S-cells the the duodenum and also jejunum. That stimulates the production and release the bicarbonate ions by the pancreas; these accumulate in the pancreatic juice, providing it an alkaline pH of roughly 8-8.6. Neutralising the mountain of chyme avoids damage to the mucosa in succeeding sections the the GI tract and also provides a pH favourable to the task of pancreatic enzymes (Jun et al, 2016).


Cholecystokinin (CCK) exists in several forms with number of amino acids ranging from 4 to 83. It is released by the enteroendocrine I-cells that the duodenum and also jejunum. As Rehfeld (2017) explains, CCK:

Inhibits gastric emptying;Helps prevent the duodenum overfilling;Stimulates the production of pancreatic enzymes;Stimulates the contraction of the smooth muscle wall of the bile bladder, prompting that to release bile;Relaxes the sphincter of Oddi, enabling bile and also pancreatic juice to it is in released right into the duodenum;Enhances the activity of Brunner’s glands, increasing their calculation of bicarbonate-rich secretions;Reduces sensations of hunger, together with other hormone such together pancreatic polypeptide.Gastric inhibitory polypeptide

Synthesised by the enteroendocrine K-cells of the duodenum and also jejunum, GIP is a polypeptide comprising approximately 42 amino acids. As its name suggests, GIP inhibits the relax of gastric secretions in the stomach, help to avoid damage to the little intestine. It likewise promotes the release of insulin through the beta cell of the kidnize (Pederson and McIntosh, 2016).

Vasoactive minister peptide

VIP is a neuropeptide consist of of 28 amino acids and also produced through nerve cell throughout the GI tract. Its role is poorly understood however it is believed to control the ingredient of pancreatic juice and also bile, as well as blood flow in gut tissue. However, VIP additionally has impacts outside that the GI tract: the induces peripheral vasodilation, thereby lowering blood pressure, while boosting the strength of myocardial contraction. It is also thought come play a duty in regulation immune responses (Igarashi et al, 2011).

Chemical cradle in the duodenum

Chemical digestion in the duodenum depends on the secretions of the two major accessory guts of the GI tract, the:

Liver, which produces bile;Pancreas, which produces pancreatic juice.

Bile and pancreatic juice room mixed and also discharged into the duodenum every time the sphincter that Oddi opens up under the influence of CCK.

Liver and bile production

The liver is the largest inner organ of the human being body; it weighs approximately 1.3kg in women and 1.8kg in men. Situated in the upper best quadrant of the abdomen, just listed below the diaphragm, it has actually over 500 documented functions. Its major role in digestion is the manufacturing of bile, which is concentrated and stored in the bitterly bladder (Fig 2). In a healthy person, the liver releases approximately 600ml that bile right into the duodenum every day. This is done in small amounts as the gall bladder contract in solution to CCK (Hundt et al, 2019).


Source: Peter Lamb

Bile is a yellowish green fluid that consists of mostly:

Water;Bile salts, including sodium taurocholate and also sodium glycocholate;Cholesterol;Phospholipids;Bile colours bilirubin and also biliverdin, which come indigenous the failure of erythrocytes.

Bile salts play crucial role in chemical digestion in the duodenum. They reduced the surface stress and anxiety of large fat globules, bring about them to collapse into smaller droplets (Fig 3). This process is called emulsification, together it creates an emulsion of tiny fat droplets v a bigger surface area for subsequent malfunction by fat-digesting enzyme (lipases). The cradle of fat by bile and also lipases also permits the efficient absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.


Source: Peter Lamb

Pancreas and also pancreatic juice production

The kidneys is a small, elongated gland approximately 15cm long and also weighing around 110g; that is situated in the loop that the duodenum and is extended by the lower section of the stomach (Fig 2). The kidneys is vital organ in the endocrine and also digestive systems, playing crucial roles in both the regulation of blood-glucose levels and digestion.

The endocrine section of the pancreas consists of tiny clusters that cells called islets the Langerhans, which develop several crucial hormones associated in regulating blood-sugar levels and regulating appetite.

The digestive portion of the pancreas, or exocrine pancreas, take away up about 80% of the organ’s mass. It consists of countless acini, small berry-like frameworks that secrete pancreatic juice into tiny ducts. This connect and also eventually fuse before discharging your secretions into the main pancreatic duct, which itself fuses v the usual bile duct prior to entering the duodenum at the significant duodenal papilla (Fig 2).

Around 1-2.5L the pancreatic juice is created each job by an adult pancreas. As defined by Agrawal and Aoun, (2014), pancreatic juice consists mostly of:

Water;Bicarbonate ions;Pancreatic enzymes.

One of its crucial roles is to neutralise mountain in the chyme coming through from the stomach. This is important to prevent autodigestion and also ulceration of subsequent sections of the GI tract.

Pancreas and pancreatic enzyme production

Beyond pancreatic juice, the pancreas additionally produces numerous enzymes the continue, in the duodenum, the chemistry digestion began in the mouth and also stomach.

Pancreatic lipasePancreatic lipase is the most energetic of the gut lipases. Favor salivary and also gastric lipases (see part 1 and component 2), it breaks under triglyceride fats right into fatty acids and also glycerol, working mostly on the emulsified fat droplets developed by bile salts. Because that maximal activity on fat droplets, pancreatic lipase calls for the visibility of the tiny protein co-enzyme colipase, i m sorry is itself created by the kidneys (Ross et al, 2013).

Weight-loss medicine such as orlistat inhibit pancreatic lipase, thereby reducing the digestion and absorption of fats. Orlistat is reported to reduce the absorb of dietary fat by approximately 30%. However, the use of together drugs is often linked with side-effects such as abdominal muscle bloating and diarrhoea, together undigested fats collect in the colon and irritate the (Qi, 2018; Al-Suwailem et al, 2006).

Pancreatic amylaseCarbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth v salivary amylase (see part 1). Prefer salivary amylase, pancreatic amylase assaults the glycosidic bonds between adjacent glucose molecules in polysaccharides, breaking down starch right into maltose. As it catalyses starch digestion in the duodenum lumen (inside an are of the duodenum), the is likewise called luminal amylase (Williams, 2019).

Pancreatic amylase can function over a vast neutral-to-alkaline pH range. Amylases space most effective in an environment with a neutral-to-alkaline pH. The activity of salivary amylase slows under in the acidic setting of the stomach, yet the enzymatic cradle of carbohydrates resumes in the alkaline atmosphere of the duodenum.

Pancreatic proteases

Protein digestion starts in the stomach, whereby pepsin attacks the peptide bonds of large molecules, breaking down proteins right into smaller chain of amino acids termed polypeptides (see part 2). The next stage of protein digestion relies on several pancreatic proteases:


Trypsin is the major protease existing in pancreatic juice. To protect against autodigestion and damage to the pancreatic acini and also ducts, the is at first secreted together the inactive precursor (or zymogen) trypsinogen. When in the duodenal lumen, trypsinogen is converted into trypsin by the activity of the enzyme enteropeptidase (or enterokinase), i m sorry is created by the mucosal cells of the duodenum and jejunum. Trypsin climate catalyses the activation the the various other pancreatic zymogens into their active forms chymotrypsin, carboxypeptidase and elastase (Goodman, 2010).

Carboxypeptidase – an exopeptidase – catalyses the remove of single amino mountain from the end of protein and also polypeptide molecules, progressively reducing their length. Trypsin, chymotrypsin and also elastase – every endopeptidases – strike the peptide bonds in the central portions the proteins and polypeptides. This results in the generation of smaller sized chains that amino acids dubbed peptides (Fig 4), which room subsequently spend in the jejunum and also ileum by the action of intestinal peptidase (see part 4).


Source: Peter Lamb

Pancreatic nucleasesAll food consumed by humans originates from plant, animal, fungal or bacter sources. As all cells, every little thing their origin, save deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic mountain (RNA), the human body have the right to digest this by break them down into their building blocks, which are dubbed nucleotides. DNA is composed of four major nucleotide bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and also thymine; RNA has actually the exact same bases, other than that thymine is replaced by uracil (Knight and Andrade, 2018).

Pancreatic juice consists of the pancreatic nucleases DNase and RNase, enzyme that malfunction DNA and RNA (VanPutte et al, 2017). The cradle of main point acids permits some that the nucleotide bases to be recycled and used as building blocks for human being DNA synthesis throughout cell division, and for RNA during the process of warrior that precedes protein synthesis.

Mineral absorption in the duodenum

The duodenum is primarily devoted to digestion, however the visibility of quick villi in relatively small numbers indicates that some nutrient absorb does also take ar here. Small amounts of sugars, amino acids and fats, but big amounts of mineral (iron, calcium, phosphorus and also trace elements of zinc and also copper) are took in in the duodenum (Kiela and Ghishan, 2016). Patient who have had considerable ulceration or cancer that has compelled the remove of all or part of the duodenum may need to take mineral supplements come compensate for diminished mineral absorption.

Common problems

Duodenal ulceration

‘Peptic ulcer’ is an umbrella term provided to describe ulcers in the stomach or duodenum. Gastric and duodenal ulcers provided to be attributed to stress and poor diet – specifically the intake of greasy and also spicy foodstuffs – but it is now welcomed that infection through Helicobacter pylori is the major precipitating aspect (see component 2). The usage of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs significantly increases the hazard of peptic ulcers (Kaur et al, 2012).

Symptoms the gastric and also duodenal ulcers are an extremely similar. Patients often experience a burning epigastric pain, often explained as ‘gnawing’, and also can point to that location. Some with duodenal ulcers suffer pain either on an empty stomach or developing two to three hours after food consumption, which tallies through gastric emptying times. However, the only way to locate a peptic ulcer with absolute certainty is come visualise it, normally via endoscopy.

Duodenal ulcers need to be treated due to the fact that of the threat of perforation and also life-threatening complications such as peritonitis and also sepsis. Just like gastric ulcers (see part 2), treatment relies on the combination of a proton pump inhibitor to reduce stomach mountain secretion and two antibiotics come eradicate H. Pylori infection (triple therapy) (Narayanan et al, 2018).


Gallstones are among the most typical pathologies the the GI tract, usually creating as a an outcome of the consolidation that bile salts and also cholesterol. Many world have, in your gall bladder, a arsenal of gritty deposits resembling wet sand, well-known as biliary sludge. Over time, the particulates can aggregate to type a gallstone. Many textbooks quote the ‘five Fs’ – female, fair, fat, forty and also fertile – as major risk determinants for emerging gallstones, however these criteria are currently regarded as negative indicators the risk. However, being female, being overweight and being middle-aged room recognised danger factors.

Many civilization who have gallstones space unaware the them, together they carry out not usually cause symptoms unless they start to travel out that the bile bladder. Every year, roughly 2-4% of human being with gallstones experience symptoms (Gurusamy and Davidson, 2014). Biliary colic – the pain linked with gallstones – commonly occurs as soon as gallstones leave the gall bladder and begin come scrape their way along the extremely innervated bile ducts. That is usually knowledgeable in the upper appropriate quadrant and also commonly radiates to the back, an especially around the best shoulder blade. Biliary colic, described as agonisingly painful, through episodes commonly lasting 1-5 hours, is often associated with nausea, vomiting and bloating. The pains is so intense that opioids are often forced to minimize it.

A gallstone the is grounding in the bile duct have the right to lead to obstructive jaundice. The two bile colors bilirubin and biliverdin accumulate in the liver and also overspill into the blood, causing the to pee to it is in dark coloured. They eventually turn the skin and also the sclera (whites the the eyes) to the greenish-yellow colour that is usual of jaundice.

In patient who have actually asymptomatic gallstones, watchful wait is commonly the technique that must be adopted, while the national Institute because that Health and also Care Excellence (2014) proposal the removal of the gall bladder (cholecystectomy) because that those through symptoms; this is normally done by laparoscopy (Gurusamy and also Davidson, 2014).

Patients who have had their bile bladder eliminated are less effective when it involves digesting fats; this way that undigested fat is lugged over into the large intestine, where it may irritate the mucosa. This patients are susceptible come recurrent diarrhoea through copious quantities of foul-smelling, pale-coloured and also oily stools (steatorrhoea).


Pancreatitis is one inflammation that the kidneys that can lead to permanent scarring and also structural damage to soft tissue and also life-threatening complications. Acute pancreatitis is generally caused by gallstones that have actually travelled follow me the typical bile duct and have end up being trapped in a place where lock obstruct the pancreatic duct. Pancreatic juice i do not care trapped in the pancreas and pancreatic enzymes may start to digest the internal pancreatic tissue, triggering significant inflammation and pain.

Acute pancreatitis may additionally be brought about by excessive usage of alcohol and is an especially associated through binge drinking. The exact mechanism is unclear, however it is assumed that alcohol may activate pancreatic enzymes while they are still in the pancreas, bring about autodigestion and inflammation. Pancreatitis is likewise often seen in patients v cystic fibrosis and also can be prompted by particular drugs, such together the antibiotic tetracycline.

The symptoms of pancreatitis are comparable to those of gallstones, v upper abdominal pain radiating into the back. The pain often becomes worse after ~ eating and may be connected with a fever. Part patients suffer relief once they skinny forward. Most situations of soft pancreatitis will resolve and also symptoms slowly disappear after around a week. However, severe instances often call for hospital admission, probably in a high-dependency unit, and also opioids because that pain relief. Even with treatment, acute pancreatitis has an all at once mortality of around 10-15%, rising to 30-40% in patients through severe an illness (Meher et al, 2015).

Unresolved acute pancreatitis have the right to turn into chronic pancreatitis, most frequently seen in patients through alcohol dependency. This is characterised not just by chronic pain, but also by permanent inflammation that the kidneys that deserve to lead to steady tissue fibrosis as a an outcome of the deposition the collagenous scar tissue. Chronic pancreatitis can damages both the exocrine and also endocrine pancreas; when more than 90% that the exocrine pancreas is destroyed, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency (PEI) develops and also normal digestion can no much longer take place. PEI most typically manifests as poor digestion that fats causing steatorrhoea.

Around 50% that patients with chronic pancreatitis also experience far-ranging damage come the endocrine pancreas and a steady loss the pancreatic islets, which can lead come diabetes (Pham and also Forsmark, 2018). Negative digestion of fat – whether resulting indigenous PEI, bile bladder an illness or cholecystectomy – may impair the absorption of vital fat-soluble vitamins, therefore patients might need to take it supplements to stop deficiencies.

Pancreatic cancer

Each year, about 8,800 human being are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, i m sorry causes approximately 5.2% the cancer deaths in the UK. The is the many deadly that the usual cancers, through five-year survive rates below 5% (Pancreatic Cancer UK, 2015). Pancreatic cancer is predicted come overtake breast cancer as the 4th most common cause of cancer fatality by 2030 (Pancreatic Cancer UK, 2015). Period is the main risk factor and most situations are diagnosed after the period of 50. Modifiable risk factors include smoking, obesity and inactivity.

Around 95% of pancreatic cancers to happen in the exocrine pancreas. The continuing to be 5% affect the endocrine pancreas; they are usually less aggressive and have a far better prognosis. Symptoms connected with pancreatic cancer space not usually present until the an illness is relatively advanced; they incorporate unexpected weight loss, ab discomfort and/or pain, steatorrhoea, nausea and, sometimes, diabetes.

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Pancreatic cancer is usually treated v surgery, which may be curative (if the tumour is found early) or palliative. Plenty of patients may also undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy v the target of reduce the size of the tumour (Kleeff et al, 2016). Treatments especially targeting pancreatic tumour cells have actually been recently occurred but space not however widely available (Amanam and also Chung, 2018).