Exocrine glands are derived from cells of epithelial membranes. The secretions of these cells are passed to the outside of the epithelial membranes (and hence to the surface of the body) through ducts. This is in contrast to endocrine glands, which lack ducts and which therefore secrete into capillaries within the body (fig. 1.14). The structure of endocrine glands will be described in chapter 11.
The secretory units of exocrine glands may be simple tubes, or they may be modified to form clusters of units around branched ducts (fig. 1.15). These clusters, or acini, are often surrounded by tentacle-like extensions of myoepithelial cells that contract and squeeze the secretions through the ducts. The rate of secretion and the action of myoepithelial cells are subject to neural and endocrine regulation.
Examples of exocrine glands in the skin include the lacrimal (tear) glands, sebaceous glands (which secrete oily sebum into hair follicles), and sweat glands. There are two types of sweat glands. The more numerous, the eccrine (or merocrine) sweat glands, secrete a dilute salt solution that serves in thermoregulation (evaporation cools the skin). The apocrine sweat glands, located in the axillae (underarms) and pubic region, secrete a protein-rich fluid. This provides nourishment for bacteria that produce the characteristic odor of this type of sweat.
All of the glands that secrete into the digestive tract are also exocrine. This is because the lumen of the digestive tract is a part of the external environment, and secretions of these glands go to the outside of the membrane that lines this tract. Mucous glands are located throughout the length of the digestive tract. Other relatively simple glands of the tract include salivary glands, gastric glands, and simple tubular glands in the intestine.
The liver and pancreas are exocrine (as well as endocrine) glands, derived embryologically from the digestive tract. The exocrine secretion of the pancreas—pancreatic juice—contains digestive enzymes and bicarbonate and is secreted into the small intestine via the pancreatic duct. The liver produces and secretes bile (an emulsifier of fat) into the small intestine via the gallbladder and bile duct.
Exocrine glands are also prominent in the reproductive system. The female reproductive tract contains numerous mucus-secreting exocrine glands. The male accessory sex organs—the prostate and seminal vesicles—are exocrine glands that contribute to semen. The testes and ovaries (the gonads) are both endocrine and exocrine glands. They are endocrine because they secrete sex steroid hormones into the blood; they are exocrine because they release gametes (ova and sperm) into the reproductive tracts.
Was this article helpful?
This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.