Structure of the Pancreas

The pancreas is closely associated with the small intestine and is located posterior to the parietal peritoneum. It extends horizontally across the posterior abdominal wall, with its head in the C-shaped curve of the duodenum (portion of the small intestine) and its tail against the spleen (fig. 17.24 and reference plate 59).

The cells that produce pancreatic juice, called pancreatic acinar cells, make up the bulk of the pancreas. These cells form clusters called acini (acinus, singular) around tiny tubes into which they release their secretions. The smaller tubes unite to form larger ones, which, in turn, give rise to a pancreatic duct extending the length of the pancreas and transporting pancreatic juice to the small intestine. The pancreatic duct usually connects with the duodenum at the same place where the bile duct from the liver and gallbladder joins the duodenum, although other connections may be present (see figs. 13.32 and 17.24).

The pancreatic and bile ducts join at a short, dilated tube called the hepatopancreatic ampulla (ampulla of Vater). A band of smooth muscle, called the hepatopancreatic sphincter (sphincter of Oddi), surrounds this ampulla.

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