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22.10C: Digestive Processes of the Small Intestine

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    The small intestine uses different enzymes and processes to digest proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Describe the small intestine’s role in the digestive process

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • The small intestine is where most chemical digestion in the human body takes place.
    • Most of the digestive enzymes in the small intestine are secreted by the pancreas and enter the small intestine via the pancreatic duct.
    • The three major classes of nutrients that undergo digestion are proteins, lipids (fats), and carbohydrates.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • digestive enzymes: Enzymes that break down polymeric macromolecules into their smaller building blocks to facilitate their absorption by the body.

     

    Chemical Digestion in the Small Intestine

     

    The small intestine is where most chemical digestion takes place. Most of the digestive enzymes in the small intestine are secreted by the pancreas and enter the small intestine via the pancreatic duct.

    These enzymes enter the small intestine in response to the hormone cholecystokinin, which is produced in response to the presence of nutrients. The hormone secretin also causes bicarbonate to be released into the small intestine from the pancreas to neutralize the potentially harmful acid coming from the stomach.

    The three major classes of nutrients that undergo digestion are proteins, lipids (fats), and carbohydrates.

     

    Proteins

     

    Proteins are degraded into small peptides and amino acids before absorption. Their chemical breakdown begins in the stomach and continues through the large intestine.

    Proteolytic enzymes, including trypsin and chymotrypsin, are secreted by the pancreas and cleave proteins into smaller peptides. Carboxypeptidase, a pancreatic brush border enzyme, splits one amino acid at a time. Aminopeptidase and dipeptidase free the end amino acid products.

     

    Lipids

     

    Lipids (fats) are degraded into fatty acids and glycerol. Pancreatic lipase breaks down triglycerides into free fatty acids and monoglycerides. Pancreatic lipase works with the help of the salts from bile secreted by the liver and the gallbladder.

    Bile salts attach to triglycerides and help to emulsify them; this aids access by pancreatic lipase because the lipase is water-soluble, but the fatty triglycerides are hydrophobic and tend to orient toward each other and away from the watery intestinal surroundings.

    The bile salts act to hold the triglycerides in their watery surroundings until the lipase can break them into the smaller components that are able to enter the villi for absorption.

     

    Carbohydrates

     

    Some carbohydrates are degraded into simple sugars, or monosaccharides (e.g., glucose, galactose) and are absorbed by the small intestine. Pancreatic amylase breaks down some carbohydrates (notably starch) into oligosaccharides. Other carbohydrates pass undigested into the large intestine, where they are digested by intestinal bacteria.

    Brush border enzymes take over from there. The most important brush border enzymes are dextrinase and glucoamylase, which further break down oligosaccharides. Other brush border enzymes are maltase, sucrase, and lactase.

    Lactase is absent in most adult humans and for them lactose, like most poly-saccharides, is not digested in the small intestine. Some carbohydrates, such as cellulose, are not digested at all, despite being made of multiple glucose units. This is because the cellulose is made out of beta-glucose that makes the inter-monosaccharidal bindings different from the ones present in starch, which consists of alpha-glucose. Humans lack the enzyme for splitting the beta-glucose-bonds—that is reserved for herbivores and bacteria in the large intestine.

    Major Digestive Enzymes
    Enzyme Produced In Site of Release pH Level
    Carbohydrate Digestion
    Salivary amylase Salivary glands Mount Neutral
    Pancreatic amylase Pancreas Small intestine Basic
    Maltase Small intestine Small intestine Basic
    Protein Digestion
    Pepsin Gastric glands Stomach Acidic
    Trypsin Pancreas Small intestine Basic
    Peptidases Small intestine Small intestine Basic
    Nucleic Acid Digestion
    Nuclease Pancreas Small intestine Basic
    Nucleosidases Pancreas Small intestine Basic
    Fat Digestion
    Lipase Pancreas Small intestine Basic

     

     

     

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