The pancreas contains endocrine and exocrine cells. What is the primary function of the exocrine cells? Option (A) to secrete enzymes into the duodenum of the small intestine. Option (B) to secrete hormones directly into the bloodstream. Option (C) to act as a supply of pancreatic stem cells and replace dead or damaged cells. Or option (D) to line the internal cavity of the pancreas and release acid to help digest food.
To answer this question, we first need to understand the function of the pancreas as an endocrine and exocrine gland. The pancreas is located in the abdomen, just behind the stomach. It is connected to the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine. It is sometimes referred to as a mixed gland because it has both endocrine and exocrine functions. Let’s explore what this actually means. Endocrine cells secrete hormones directly into the blood. These hormones are then transported via the blood to their target cells and organs. We can therefore eliminate option (B) as the question asked us about the primary function of the exocrine cells.
Exocrine cells secrete substances such as enzymes via ducts. The exocrine cells of the pancreas secrete pancreatic juice, which contains digestive enzymes, into the small intestine. We can now eliminate option (C) as we now know that “to act as a supply of pancreatic stem cells and replace dead or damaged cells” is not a function of the exocrine cells. The contents of the stomach are acidic when they enter the small intestine. Pancreatic juice is alkaline to neutralize this acid to provide the right conditions for the enzymes produced by the exocrine cells of the pancreas. It is therefore incorrect to suggest that the exocrine cells of the pancreas release acid. So we can eliminate option (D).
The exocrine cells of the pancreas release enzymes into the small intestine via ducts. So the primary function of the exocrine cells is (A) to secrete enzymes into the duodenum of the small intestine.