This write-up – the 3rd in a six-part series on the gastrointestinal street – defines chemical cradle in the duodenum and the function by the liver and pancreas in this process. It also discusses usual pathologies of this three contents of the gastrointestinal tract


After that is passage with the stomach, ingested food turned into acidic chyme arrives in the very first segment of the small intestine, a U-shaped tube dubbed the duodenum. The duodenum to produce hormones and receives secretions indigenous the liver (bile) and also pancreas (pancreatic juice containing digestive enzymes). These various hormones, fluids and also enzymes facilitate chemistry digestion in the duodenum while likewise ensuring the mountain of chyme comes from the stomach is neutralised. This is crucial to stop autodigestion and corrosive damage to the lining the the gut. This article, the 3rd in a six-part collection exploring the cradle tract, describes the anatomy, functions and also common pathologies the the duodenum, liver and also pancreas.

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

Authors: john Knight is combine professor in biomedical science; Nikki Williams is combine professor in respiratory physiology; Yamni Nigam is professor in biomedical science; every at the college of person Health and also Sciences, Swansea University.

This write-up has to be double-blind peer reviewed


Part 1 and component 2 in our collection about the gastrointestinal (GI) tract looked at the function of the mouth, oesophagus and stomach in mechanical and also chemical digestion. This third part of the series covers the anatomy and function of the duodenum – the very first segment that the small intestine – and the role of the two significant accessory guts of digestion, the liver and also the pancreas. It likewise describes common pathologies that influence these components of the GI tract.

Anatomy of the duodenum

The duodenum (Fig 1) is U-shaped and also approximately 25-38cm long (Lopez and also Khorasani-Zadeh, 2019). It is composed of 4 regions:

Superior region: an enlarged top area of about 2cm called the duodenal bulb, which proceeds the pyloric sphincter and is connected to the liver by the hepatoduodenal ligament;Descending region: this expand downwards into the ab cavity indigenous the remarkable duodenal flexure; roughly halfway under is the major duodenal papilla, the entry allude of the typical bile duct and pancreatic duct, which fuse before entering the duodenum. The entry of bile and also pancreatic juice right into the duodenum is regulation by a tiny ring that muscle, the sphincter the Oddi;Horizontal or transverse region: the biggest section of the duodenum (10-12cm long) and the main area that mineral absorption;Ascending region: this passes slightly upwards right into the ab cavity before connecting to the jejunum at the duodenojejunal flexure.


Source: Peter Lamb

The duodenum is mainly a region of chemistry digestion. That receives secretions native the liver and pancreas, and also its mucosa contains big numbers the mucus-producing (goblet) cells and also Brunner’s glands, i beg your pardon secrete a watery liquid that is well-off in mucus and also bicarbonate ions. Together in the stomach (see component 2), rubber acts as a security barrier versus autodigestion and lubricates the passage of chyme.

The mucosal lining that the duodenum additionally contains high columnar epithelial cells and also extends right into circular folds and also finger-like projections (villi), which boost the surface area because that nutrient absorption. However, nutrient absorb is no the duodenum’s speciality and occurs mainly more down the small intestine in the jejunum and also ileum, where the villi space longer, much more numerous and found at greater density.

Hormone manufacturing in the duodenum

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

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

Secretin, a peptide hormone consisting of 27 amino acids, is secreted through the entero-endocrine S-cells of the duodenum and jejunum. The stimulates the production and release that bicarbonate ion by the pancreas; these accumulate in the pancreatic juice, providing it one alkaline pH of around 8-8.6. Neutralising the acidity of chyme stays clear of damage to the mucosa in succeeding sections of the GI tract and provides a pH favourable come the activity of pancreatic enzyme (Jun et al, 2016).


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

Inhibits gastric emptying;Helps protect against the duodenum overfilling;Stimulates the manufacturing of pancreatic enzymes;Stimulates the contraction of the smooth muscle wall of the gall bladder, prompting it to release bile;Relaxes the sphincter of Oddi, allowing bile and pancreatic juice to be released right into the duodenum;Enhances the task of Brunner’s glands, increasing their calculation of bicarbonate-rich secretions;Reduces sensations of hunger, together with other hormones 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 surname suggests, GIP inhibits the release of gastric secretions in the stomach, help to avoid damage to the small intestine. It likewise promotes the relax of insulin by the beta cells of the kidnize (Pederson and also McIntosh, 2016).

Vasoactive intestinal peptide

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

Chemical cradle in the duodenum

Chemical digestion in the duodenum depends on the secretions the the two significant accessory offal of the GI tract, the:

Liver, i m sorry produces bile;Pancreas, which produces pancreatic juice.

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

Liver and bile production

The liver is the largest interior organ that the human being body; the weighs around 1.3kg in women and also 1.8kg in men. Situated in the upper best quadrant the the abdomen, just listed below the diaphragm, it has over 500 recorded functions. Its significant role in digestion is the production of bile, which is concentrated and also stored in the bitterly bladder (Fig 2). In a healthy and balanced person, the liver releases about 600ml that bile right into the duodenum every day. This is done in little amounts as the bitterly bladder contracts in response to CCK (Hundt et al, 2019).


Source: Peter Lamb

Bile is a yellowish green liquid that includes mostly:

Water;Bile salts, consisting of sodium taurocholate and also sodium glycocholate;Cholesterol;Phospholipids;Bile colours bilirubin and biliverdin, i beg your pardon come indigenous the failure of erythrocytes.

Bile salt play critical role in chemical digestion in the duodenum. They lower the surface stress of huge fat globules, leading to them to collapse into smaller droplets (Fig 3). This process is dubbed emulsification, as it create an emulsion of tiny fat droplets with a larger surface area for subsequent malfunction by fat-digesting enzyme (lipases). The cradle of fats by bile and lipases also enables the effective absorption that fat-soluble vitamin such together vitamins A, D, E and K.


Source: Peter Lamb

Pancreas and pancreatic juice production

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

The endocrine part of the pancreas is composed of tiny clusters that cells called islets of Langerhans, which develop several vital hormones involved in regulating blood-sugar levels and also regulating appetite.

The digestive part of the pancreas, or exocrine pancreas, take away up approximately 80% the the organ’s mass. It is composed of thousands of acini, little berry-like frameworks that secrete pancreatic juice into tiny ducts. These connect and eventually fuse prior to discharging their secretions right into the main pancreatic duct, which itself fuses through the common bile duct before entering the duodenum in ~ the major duodenal papilla (Fig 2).

Around 1-2.5L that pancreatic juice is produced each day by one adult pancreas. As explained by Agrawal and also Aoun, (2014), pancreatic juice is composed mostly of:

Water;Bicarbonate ions;Pancreatic enzymes.

One that its crucial roles is to neutralise acidity in the chyme coming through from the stomach. This is necessary to avoid autodigestion and also ulceration of succeeding sections of the GI tract.

Pancreas and also pancreatic enzyme production

Beyond pancreatic juice, the pancreas additionally produces number of enzymes the continue, in the duodenum, the chemical digestion started in the mouth and also stomach.

Pancreatic lipasePancreatic lipase is the most active of the gut lipases. Choose salivary and also gastric lipases (see part 1 and component 2), the breaks under triglyceride fats right into fatty acids and glycerol, working largely on the emulsified fat droplets created by bile salts. For maximal activity on fat droplets, pancreatic lipase needs the existence of the little protein co-enzyme colipase, which is itself developed by the kidneys (Ross et al, 2013).

Weight-loss drugs such as orlistat inhibit pancreatic lipase, thereby reducing the digestion and absorption that fats. Orlistat is report to minimize the absorb of dietary fat by as much as 30%. However, the usage of such drugs is often connected with side-effects such as ab bloating and diarrhoea, as undigested fats collection in the colon and irritate it (Qi, 2018; Al-Suwailem et al, 2006).

Pancreatic amylaseCarbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth v salivary amylase (see component 1). Choose salivary amylase, pancreatic amylase attacks the glycosidic bond between surrounding glucose molecule in polysaccharides, breaking down starch right into maltose. As it catalyses strength digestion in the duodenum lumen (inside space of the duodenum), it is also called luminal amylase (Williams, 2019).

Pancreatic amylase can function over a wide neutral-to-alkaline pH range. Amylases are most efficient in an atmosphere with a neutral-to-alkaline pH. The activity of salient amylase slows under in the acidic environment of the stomach, however the enzymatic cradle of carbohydrate resumes in the alkaline environment of the duodenum.

Pancreatic proteases

Protein digestion starts in the stomach, wherein pepsin attacks the peptide bonds of big molecules, breaking down proteins right into smaller chain of amino mountain termed polypeptides (see component 2). The following stage of protein digestion depends on numerous pancreatic proteases:


Trypsin is the major protease present in pancreatic juice. To prevent autodigestion and also damage to the pancreatic acini and ducts, it is at first secreted as the inactive precursor (or zymogen) trypsinogen. As soon as in the duodenal lumen, trypsinogen is converted into trypsin through the activity of the enzyme enteropeptidase (or enterokinase), i beg your pardon is produced by the mucosal cells of the duodenum and also jejunum. Trypsin climate catalyses the activation of the other pancreatic zymogens into their energetic forms chymotrypsin, carboxypeptidase and elastase (Goodman, 2010).

Carboxypeptidase – one exopeptidase – catalyses the removed of single amino mountain from the end of protein and polypeptide molecules, slowly reducing your length. Trypsin, chymotrypsin and elastase – all endopeptidases – assault the peptide binding in the central portions of proteins and also polypeptides. This outcomes in the generation of smaller chains that amino acids referred to as peptides (Fig 4), which space subsequently spend in the jejunum and also ileum by the activity of minister peptidase (see part 4).


Source: Peter Lamb

Pancreatic nucleasesAll food consumed by humans comes from plant, animal, fungal or bacterial sources. As all cells, whatever their origin, contain deoxyribonucleic mountain (DNA) and ribonucleic mountain (RNA), the human body deserve to digest these by breaking them down into their structure blocks, which are called nucleotides. DNA is written of four significant nucleotide bases: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine; RNA has the very same bases, except that thymine is changed by uracil (Knight and also Andrade, 2018).

Pancreatic juice consists of the pancreatic nucleases DNase and also RNase, enzymes that malfunction DNA and RNA (VanPutte et al, 2017). The cradle of main point acids allows some that the nucleotide bases to it is in recycled and also used as building blocks for human DNA synthesis during cell division, and for RNA during the procedure of warrior that comes before protein synthesis.

Mineral absorb in the duodenum

The duodenum is primarily devoted to digestion, yet the visibility of short villi in relatively small numbers shows that some nutrient absorption does also take place here. Little amounts the sugars, amino acids and also fats, but large amounts of minerals (iron, calcium, phosphorus and trace aspects of zinc and also copper) are soaked up in the duodenum (Kiela and Ghishan, 2016). Patients who have actually had considerable ulceration or cancer that has forced the remove of all or part of the duodenum may need to take it mineral supplements to compensate for reduced mineral absorption.

Common problems

Duodenal ulceration

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

Symptoms that gastric and also duodenal ulcers are really similar. Patients regularly experience a burn epigastric pain, often described as ‘gnawing’, and can point to its location. Some with duodenal ulcers experience pain either on an empty stomach or occurring two come three hours after food consumption, which tallies with gastric emptying times. However, the only method to situate a peptic ulcer through absolute certainty is to visualise it, typically via endoscopy.

Duodenal ulcers need to be treated since of the hazard of perforation and also life-threatening complications such together peritonitis and also sepsis. As with gastric ulcers (see part 2), treatment relies on the combination of a proton pump inhibitor to alleviate stomach acid secretion and two antibiotics come eradicate H. Pylori infection (triple therapy) (Narayanan et al, 2018).


Gallstones are among the most common pathologies that the GI tract, usually forming as a an outcome of the consolidation that bile salts and cholesterol. Many people have, in their gall bladder, a arsenal of gritty deposits resembling wet sand, recognized as biliary sludge. End time, the particulates can aggregate to form a gallstone. Plenty of textbooks quote the ‘five Fs’ – female, fair, fat, forty and fertile – as significant risk factors for developing gallstones, yet these criteria are now regarded as poor indicators the risk. However, being female, gift overweight and being middle-aged room recognised threat factors.

Many world who have actually gallstones room unaware the them, as they perform not usually reason symptoms uneven they begin to travel out of the gall bladder. Every year, about 2-4% of human being with gallstones experience symptoms (Gurusamy and also Davidson, 2014). Biliary colic – the pain linked with gallstones – generally occurs once gallstones leaving the bile bladder and begin to scrape their means along the extremely innervated bile ducts. That is usually experienced in the upper appropriate quadrant and commonly radiates come the back, specifically around the ideal shoulder blade. Biliary colic, explained as agonisingly painful, through episodes frequently lasting 1-5 hours, is often associated with nausea, vomiting and bloating. The pains is so extreme that opioids are often compelled to minimize it.

A gallstone that is stuck in the bile duct can lead come obstructive jaundice. The two bile colours bilirubin and also biliverdin accumulate in the liver and also overspill into the blood, causing the to pee to be dark coloured. They at some point turn the skin and also the sclera (whites that the eyes) to the greenish-yellow colour the is typical of jaundice.

In patients who have asymptomatic gallstones, watchful wait is typically the approach that should be adopted, while the nationwide Institute for Health and also Care Excellence (2014) recommends the removal of the bile bladder (cholecystectomy) because that those with symptoms; this is commonly done by laparoscopy (Gurusamy and also Davidson, 2014).

Patients that have had actually their bitterly bladder gotten rid of are less efficient when it pertains to digesting fats; this method that undigested fat is brought over right into the large intestine, where it might irritate the mucosa. This patients are susceptible come recurrent diarrhoea v copious amounts of foul-smelling, pale-coloured and oily stools (steatorrhoea).


Pancreatitis is one inflammation that the pancreas that have the right to lead to irreversible scarring and also structural damage to soft tissue and life-threatening complications. Acute pancreatitis is frequently caused by gallstones that have actually travelled follow me the common bile duct and also 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 also pancreatic enzymes may start to digest the inner pancreatic tissue, triggering severe inflammation and also pain.

Acute pancreatitis may also be caused by excessive usage of alcohol and is specifically associated v binge drinking. The exact mechanism is unclear, however it is thought that alcohol might activate pancreatic enzymes while they room still in the pancreas, bring about autodigestion and inflammation. Pancreatitis is likewise often viewed in patients through cystic fibrosis and can be prompted by certain drugs, such as the antibiotic tetracycline.

The symptoms of pancreatitis are similar to those the gallstones, v upper abdominal pain radiating into the back. The pain often becomes worse after eating and may be associated with a fever. Part patients experience relief when they skinny forward. Most instances of gentle pancreatitis will resolve and symptoms progressively disappear after around a week. However, severe situations often need hospital admission, possibly in a high-dependency unit, and also opioids because that pain relief. Even with treatment, acute pancreatitis has actually an as whole mortality of around 10-15%, increasing to 30-40% in patients v severe condition (Meher et al, 2015).

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

Around 50% the patients through chronic pancreatitis also experience significant damage to the endocrine pancreas and also a gradual loss that pancreatic islets, which can lead to diabetes (Pham and Forsmark, 2018). Negative digestion of fat – even if it is resulting native PEI, bile bladder an illness or cholecystectomy – may impair the absorb of crucial fat-soluble vitamins, therefore patients may need to take it supplements to stop deficiencies.

Pancreatic cancer

Each year, approximately 8,800 civilization are diagnosed v pancreatic cancer, i m sorry causes approximately 5.2% of cancer deaths in the UK. That is the most deadly the the typical cancers, v five-year survival rates below 5% (Pancreatic Cancer UK, 2015). Pancreatic cancer is predicted come overtake breast cancer as the fourth most common cause of cancer fatality by 2030 (Pancreatic Cancer UK, 2015). Age is the main risk factor and most situations are diagnosed after ~ the period of 50. Modifiable risk determinants include smoking, obesity and also inactivity.

Around 95% the pancreatic cancers to happen in the exocrine pancreas. The continuing to be 5% influence the endocrine pancreas; they are normally less aggressive and also have a better prognosis. Symptoms linked with pancreatic cancer are not usually current until the an illness is relatively advanced; they include unexpected load loss, abdominal muscle discomfort and/or pain, steatorrhoea, nausea and, sometimes, diabetes.

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Pancreatic cancer is typically treated v surgery, which might be curative (if the tumour is discovered early) or palliative. Many patients may additionally undergo chemotherapy or radiotherapy v the aim of reducing the size of the tumour (Kleeff et al, 2016). Treatments particularly targeting pancreatic tumour cells have been recently emerged but are not however widely obtainable (Amanam and Chung, 2018).