Digestive System > Pancreas

Control of Pancreatic Exocrine Secretion

As you might expect, secretion from the exocrine pancreas is regulated by both neural and endocrine controls. During interdigestive periods, very little secretion takes place, but as food enters the stomach and, a little later, chyme flows into the small intestine, pancreatic secretion is strongly stimulated.

Like the stomach, the pancreas is innervated by the vagus nerve, which applies a low level stimulus to secretion in response to anticipation of a meal. However, the most important stimuli for pancreatic secretion comes from three hormones secreted by the enteric endocrine system:

Stop and think about this for a minute - control of pancreatic secretion makes perfect sense. Pancreatic secretions contain enzymes which are needed to digest proteins, starch and triglyceride. When these substances enter stomach, and especially the small intestine, they stimulate release of gastrin and cholecystokinin, which in turn stimulate secretion of the enzymes of destruction.

Pancreatic secretions are also the major mechanism for neutralizing gastric acid in the small intestine. When acid enters the small gut, it stimulates secretin to be released, and the effect of this hormone is to stimulate secretion of lots of bicarbonate. As proteins and fats are digested and absorbed, and acid is neutralized, the stimuli for cholecystokinin and secretin secretion disappear and pancreatic secretion falls off.

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