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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Secretory Functions of the Alimentary Tract

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Secretions of the Large Intestine

Mucus Secretion. The mucosa of the large intestine, likethat of the small intestine, has many crypts of Lieberkühn; however, unlike the small intestine, there are no villi.

Secretions of the Large Intestine

Mucus Secretion. The mucosa of the large intestine, likethat of the small intestine, has many crypts of Lieberkühn; however, unlike the small intestine, there are no villi. The epithelial cells contain almost no enzymes. Instead, they consist mainly of mucous cells that secrete only mucus. The great preponderance of secretion in the large intestine is mucus. This mucus contains moderate amounts of bicarbonate ions secreted by a few non–mucus-secreting epithelial cells. The rate of secretion of mucus is regulated principally by direct, tactile stimulation of the epithelial cells lining the large intestine and by local nervous reflexes to the mucous cells in the crypts of Lieberkühn.

Stimulation of the pelvic nerves from the spinal cord, which carry parasympathetic innervation to the distal one half to two thirds of the large intestine, also can cause marked increase in mucus secretion. This occurs along with increase in peristaltic motility of the colon.

During extreme parasympathetic stimulation, often caused by emotional disturbances, so much mucus can occasionally be secreted into the large intestine that the person has a bowel movement of ropy mucus as often as every 30 minutes; this mucus often contains little or no fecal material.

Mucus in the large intestine protects the intestinal wall against excoriation, but in addition, it provides an adherent medium for holding fecal matter together. Furthermore, it protects the intestinal wall from the great amount of bacterial activity that takes place inside the feces, and, finally, the mucus plus the alka-linity of the secretion (pH of 8.0 caused by large amounts of sodium bicarbonate) provides a barrier to keep acids formed in the feces from attacking the intestinal wall.

Diarrhea Caused by Excess Secretion of Water and Electrolytes in Response to Irritation. Whenever a segment of thelarge intestine becomes intensely irritated, as occurs when bacterial infection becomes rampant during enteritis, the mucosa secretes extra large quantities ofwater and electrolytes in addition to the normal viscid alkaline mucus. This acts to dilute the irritating factors and to cause rapid movement of the feces toward the anus. The result is diarrhea, with loss of large quanti-ties of water and electrolytes. But the diarrhea also washes away irritant factors, which promotes earlier recovery from the disease than might otherwise occur.


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