s that line the
cavities and surfaces of structures throughout the body. Many
glands are also formed from epithelial tissue. In humans, epithelium is classified as a primary body tissue, the other ones being
Functions of epithelial cells include secretion, selective absorption, protection, transcellular transport and detection of sensation. As a result, they commonly present extensive apical-basolateral polarity (e.g. different membrane proteins expressed) and specialization.
- It may develop from
- The epithelial cells rest on a
basement membrane, which may be clear or not clear.
- No blood vessels can enter in between epithelial cells but nerves can, so epithelial tissue is
- Epithelial tissue receives nutrition by diffusion from the underlying
Epithelial tissue can be structurally divided into two groups depending on the number of layers of which it is composed. Epithelial tissue that is only one cell thick is known as simple epithelium. If it is two or more cells thick, it is known as stratified epithelium.
However, when taller simple epithelial cells (see
, below) are viewed in cross section with several nuclei appearing at different heights, they can be confused with stratified epithelia. This kind of epithelium is therefore described as
Regardless of the type, any epithelium is separated from the underlying tissue by a thin layer of connective tissue known as the basement membrane. The basement membrane provides structural support for the epithelium and also binds it to neighbouring structures.
Simple epithelium is one cell thick; that is, every cell is in contact with the underlying
basement membrane. Simple epithelium can be subdivided further according to the shape and function of its cells.
| Type|| Description|
|Squamous epithelium|Squamous||Squamous cells have the appearance of thin, flat plates. They fit closely together in tissues; providing a smooth, low-friction surface over which fluids can move easily. The shape of the nucleus usually corresponds to the cell form and helps to identify the type of epithelium. Squamous cells tend to have horizontally flattened, elliptical (oval or shaped like an egg) nuclei because of the thin flattened form of the cell. Classically, squamous epithelia are found lining surfaces utilizing simple passive diffusion such as the Type I pneumocyte|alveolar epithelium in the lungs. Specialized squamous epithelia also form the lining of cavities such as the blood vessels (endothelium) and pericardium (mesothelium) and the major cavities found within the body. |
|Cuboidal epithelia|Cuboidal||As their name implies, cuboidal cells are roughly cuboidal in shape, appearing square in cross section. Each cell has a spherical nucleus in the centre. Cuboidal epithelium is commonly found in secretive or absorptive tissue: for example the (secretive) exocrine gland the pancreas and the (absorptive) lining of the kidney tubules as well as in the ducts of the glands. They also constitute the Germinal epithelium (female)|germinal epithelium that covers the female ovary.|
|Columnar||Columnar epithelial cells are elongated and column-shaped. Their nuclei are elongated and are usually located near the base of the cells. Columnar epithelium forms the lining of the stomach and intestines. Some columnar cells are specialized for sensory reception such as in the nose, ears and the taste buds of the tongue. Goblet cells (unicellular glands) are found between the columnar epithelial cells of the duodenum. They secrete mucus, which acts as a lubricant.|
|Pseudostratified epithelium|Pseudostratified||These are simple columnar epithelial cells whose nuclei appear at different heights, giving the misleading (hence "pseudo") impression that the epithelium is stratified when the cells are viewed in cross section. Pseudostratified epithelium can also possess fine hair-like extensions of their apical (luminal) membrane called cilium|cilia. In this case, the epithelium is described as "ciliated" pseudostratified epithelium. Cilia are capable of energy dependent pulsatile beating in a certain direction through interaction of cytoskeletal microtubules and connecting structural proteins and enzymes. The wafting effect produced causes mucus secreted locally by the goblet cells (to lubricate and to trap pathogens and particles) to flow in that direction (typically out of the body). Ciliated epithelium is found in the airways (nose, bronchi), but is also found in the uterus and Fallopian tubes of females, where the cilia propel the ovum to the uterus.|
Stratified epithelium differs from simple epithelium in that it is multilayered. It is therefore found where body linings have to withstand mechanical or chemical insult such that layers can be abraded and lost without exposing subepithelial layers. Cells flatten as the layers become more apical, though in their most basal layers the cells can be squamous, cuboidal or columnar.
Stratified epithelia (of columnar, cuboidal or squamous type) can have the following specializations:
| Specialization|| Description|
|Keratinized||In this case, the most apical layers (exterior) of cells are dead and lose their nucleus and cytoplasm, instead contain a tough, resistant protein called keratin. This specialization makes the epithelium waterproof, so is found in the mammalian skin. The lining of the esophagus is an example of a non-keratinized or "moist" stratified epithelium.|
|Transitional epithelium|Transitional||Transitional epithelium, like pseudostratified epithelium, is almost a class of its own; it is found in tissues that stretch and it can appear to be stratified cuboidal when the tissue is not stretched or stratified squamous when the organ is distended and the tissue stretches. It is sometimes called the urothelium since it is almost exclusively found in the bladder, ureters and urethra.|
: covering and lining surfaces. protect underlying tissues.
: Sensory stimuli are detected by specialized epithelial cells. Specialized epithelial tissue containing sensory nerve endings is found in the skin, eyes, ears and nose and on the tongue.
: In glands, epithelial tissue is specialized to secrete specific chemical substances such as enzymes, hormones and lubricating fluids.
: Certain epithelial cells lining the small intestine absorb nutrients from the digestion of food.
: Epithelial tissues in the kidney excrete waste products from the body and reabsorb needed materials from the urine. Sweat is also excreted from the body by epithelial cells in the sweat glands.
: Simple epithelium promotes the diffusion of gases, liquids and nutrients. Because they form such a thin lining, they are ideal for the diffusion of gases (e.g. walls of capillaries and lungs).
Epithelium lines both the outside (
skin) and the inside cavities and
of bodies. The outermost layer of our
skin is composed of dead
Tissues that line the inside of the mouth, the oesophagus and part of the rectum are composed of
stratified squamous epithelium. Other surfaces that separate body cavities from the outside environment are lined by simple squamous, columnar, or pseudostratified epithelial cells. Other epithelial cells line the insides of the
, the reproductive and urinary tracts, and make up the
glands. The outer surface of the
cornea is covered with fast-growing, easily-regenerated epithelial cells.
Endothelium (the inner lining of
blood vessels, the
) is a specialized form of epithelium. Another type,
mesothelium, forms the walls of the
Click the table headings to sort
| '''System''' || '''Tissue''' || '''Epithelium''' || '''Subtype|
| circulatory || blood vessels || Simple squamous || endothelium|
| digestive || Duct (anatomy)|ducts of submandibular glands || Stratified columnar || -|
| digestive || attached gingiva || Stratified squamous, keratinized || -|
| digestive || dorsum of tongue|| Stratified squamous, keratinized || -|
| digestive || hard palate || Stratified squamous, keratinized || -|
| digestive || oesophagus || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized || -|
| digestive || stomach || Simple columnar, non-ciliated || -|
| digestive || small intestine || Simple columnar, non-ciliated || intestinal epithelium|
| digestive || large intestine || Simple columnar, non-ciliated || intestinal epithelium|
| digestive || rectum || Simple columnar, non-ciliated || -|
| digestive || anus || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized superior to Hilton's white line |
Stratified squamous, keratinised inferior to Hilton's white line
| digestive || gallbladder || Simple columnar, non-ciliated || -|
| endocrine || thyroid follicles || Simple cuboidal || -|
| nervous || ependyma || Simple cuboidal || -|
| lymphatic || lymph vessel || Simple squamous || endothelium|
| integumentary || skin - dead superficial layer || Stratified squamous, keratinized || -|
| integumentary || sweat gland ducts || Stratified cuboidal || -|
| integumentary || mesothelium of body cavities || Simple squamous || mesothelium|
| reproductive - female || ovaries || Simple cuboidal || germinal epithelium (female)|
| reproductive - female || Fallopian tubes || Simple columnar, ciliated || -|
| reproductive - female || endometrium (uterus) || Simple columnar, ciliated || -|
| reproductive - female || cervix (endocervix) || Simple columnar || -|
| reproductive - female || cervix (ectocervix) || Stratified squamous, non-keratinised || -|
| reproductive - female || vagina || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized || -|
| reproductive - female || labia majora || Stratified squamous, keratinized || -|
| reproductive - male || tubuli recti || Simple cuboidal || germinal epithelium (male)|
| reproductive - male || rete testis || Simple cuboidal || -|
| reproductive - male || ductuli efferentes || Pseudostratified columnar || -|
| reproductive - male || epididymis || Pseudostratified columnar, with stereocilia || -|
| reproductive - male || vas deferens || Pseudostratified columnar || -|
| reproductive - male || ejaculatory duct || Simple columnar || -|
| reproductive - male (gland) || bulbourethral glands || Simple columnar || -|
| reproductive - male (gland) || seminal vesicle || Pseudostratified columnar || -|
| respiratory || oropharynx || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized || -|
| respiratory || larynx || Pseudostratified columnar, ciliated || respiratory epithelium|
| respiratory || larynx - True vocal cords || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized || -|
| respiratory || Vertebrate trachea|trachea || Pseudostratified columnar, ciliated || respiratory epithelium|
| respiratory || respiratory bronchioles || Simple cuboidal || -|
| sensory || cornea || Stratified squamous, non-keratinized || corneal epithelium|
| sensory || nose || Pseudostratified columnar || olfactory epithelium|
| urinary || kidney - proximal convoluted tubule || Simple cuboidal, with microvilli || -|
| urinary || kidney - ascending thin limb || Simple squamous || -|
| urinary || kidney - distal convoluted tubule || Simple cuboidal, without microvilli || -|
| urinary || kidney - collecting duct || Simple cuboidal || -|
| urinary || renal pelvis || Transitional || urothelium|
| urinary || ureter || Transitional || urothelium|
| urinary || urinary bladder || Transitional || urothelium|
| urinary || prostatic urethra || Transitional || urothelium|
| urinary || membranous urethra || Pseudostratified columnar, non-ciliated || -|
| urinary || penile urethra || Pseudostratified columnar, non-ciliated || -|
| urinary || external urethral orifice || Stratified squamous || -|
A cell junction is a structure within a tissue of a multicellular organism. Cell junctions are especially abundant in epithelial tissues. They consist of protein complexes and provide contact between neighbouring cells, between a cell and the extracellular matrix, or they build up the paracellular barrier of epithelia and control the
As stated above, secretion is one major function of epithelial cells.
Glands are formed from the invagination / infolding of epithelial cells and subsequent growth in the underlying connective tissue. There are two major classifications of glands:
endocrine glands and
exocrine glands. Endocrine glands are glands that secrete their product directly onto a surface rather than through a duct. This group contains the glands of the Endocrine system.
Sensing the extracellular environment
"Some epithelial cells are
ted, and they commonly exist as a sheet of polarised cells forming a tube or tubule with cilia projecting into the
on epithelial cells provide chemosensation, thermosensation and
mechanosensation of the extracellular environment by playing "a sensory role mediating specific signalling cues, including soluble factors in the external cell environment, a
role in which a soluble protein is released to have an effect downstream of the fluid flow, and mediation of fluid flow if the cilia are
In general, there are epithelial tissues deriving from all of the embryological
ectoderm (e.g., the
endoderm (e.g., the lining of the
mesoderm (e.g., the inner linings of
However, it is important to note that
pathologists do not consider
mesothelium (both derived from mesoderm) to be true epithelium. This is because such tissues present very different pathology. For that reason, pathologists label cancers in endothelium and mesothelium
sarcomas, whereas true epithelial cancers are called
carcinomas. Also, the filaments that support these mesoderm-derived tissues are very distinct. Outside of the field of pathology, it is, in general, accepted that the epithelium arises from all three germ layers.
Image:Dogsquamos100x.jpg|Squamous Epithelium 100x
Image:Cheekcells stained.jpg|Human cheek cells (Nonkeratinized stratified squamous epithelium) 500x
This article is
licensed under the
GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia
article "epithelial cell".
||Last Modified: 2010-11-25