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4.2A: Characteristics of Epithelial Tissue

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    The human body consists of four types of tissue: epithelial, connective, muscular, and nervous. Epithelial tissue covers the body, lines all cavities, and composes the glands.

    Learning Objectives
    • Describe the primary functions and characteristics of epithelial tissue

    Key Points

    • Epithelial tissue is composed of cells laid together in sheets with the cells tightly connected to one another. Epithelial layers are avascular, but innervated.
    • Epithelial cells have two surfaces that differ in both structure and function.
    • Glands, such as exocrine and endocrine, are composed of epithelial tissue and classified based on how their secretions are released.

    Key Terms

    • epithelium: A membranous tissue composed of one or more layers of cells that form the covering of most internal and external surfaces of the body and its organs.
    • avascular: Lacking blood vessels.
    • vascular: Containing blood vessels.

    Functions of the Epithelium

    Epithelia tissue forms boundaries between different environments, and nearly all substances must pass through the epithelium. In its role as an interface tissue, epithelium accomplishes many functions, including:

    1. Protection for the underlying tissues from radiation, desiccation, toxins, and physical trauma.
    2. Absorption of substances in the digestive tract lining with distinct modifications.
    3. Regulation and excretion of chemicals between the underlying tissues and the body cavity.
    4. The secretion of hormones into the blood vascular system. The secretion of sweat, mucus, enzymes, and other products that are delivered by ducts come from the glandular epithelium.
    5. The detection of sensation.

    Characteristics of Epithelial Layers

    Epithelial tissue is composed of cells laid out in sheets with strong cell-to-cell attachments. These protein connections hold the cells together to form a tightly connected layer that is avascular but innervated in nature.

    The epithelial cells are nourished by substances diffusing from blood vessels in the underlying connective tissue. One side of the epithelial cell is oriented towards the surface of the tissue, body cavity, or external environment and the other surface is joined to a basement membrane. The basement layer is non-cellular in nature and helps to cement the epithelial tissue to the underlying structures.

    Types of Epithelial Tissue

    Epithelial tissues are identified by both the number of layers and the shape of the cells in the upper layers. There are eight basic types of epithelium: six of them are identified based on both the number of cells and their shape; two of them are named by the type of cell (squamous) found in them. Epithelial tissue is classified based on the number of cells, the shape of those cells, and the types of those cells.

    Epithelial Tissue Cells
    Cells Locations Function
    Simple squamous epithelium

    the cells are flattened and single-layered

    Air sacs of the lungs and the lining of the heart, blood vessels and lymphatic vessels Allows materials to pass through by diffusion and filtration, and secretes lubricating substances
    Simple cuboidal epithelium

    the cells are cube shaped and single layered

    In ducts and secretory portions of small glands and in kidney tubules Secretes and absorbs
    Simple columnar epithelium

    are rectangular and are attached to the basement membrane on one of their narrow sides, so that each cell is standing up like a column. There is only one layer of cells.

    Ciliated tissues including the bronchi, uterine tubes, and uterus; smooth (nonciliated tissues) are in the digestive tract bladder Absorbs; it also secretes mucous and enzymes.
    Pseudostratified columnar epithelium

    the cells are column-like in appearance, but they vary in height. The taller cells bend over the tops of the shorter cells so that the top of the epithelial tissue is continuous. There is only one layer of cells

    Ciliated tissue lines the trachea and much of the upper respiratory tract Secrete mucous; ciliated tissue moves mucous
    Stratified squamous epithelium

    many layers of flattened cells

    Lines the esophagus, mouth, and vagina Protects against abrasion
    Stratified cuboidal epithelium

    contains many layers of cube-shaped cells

    Sweat glands, salivary glands, and mammary glands Protective tissue
    Stratified columnar epithelium

    many layers of rectangular, column-shaped cells

    The male urethra and the ducts of some glands. Secretes and protects
    Transitional epithelium

    many layers of irregularly shaped cells with diverse sizes

    Lines the bladder, urethra and ureters Allows the urinary organs to expand and stretch

    4.2A: Characteristics of Epithelial Tissue is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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