Intestine, Small

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Intestine, Small


the portion of the gut of vertebrate mammals, including man, that is situated between the stomach and the large intestine. The final digestion of food, the absorption of nutrients, and the movement of chyme occur in the small intestine.

In mammals, including man, the small intestine is divided into three sections: the duodenum, the jejunum, and the ileum. The length of the small intestine differs according to the nature of the digestive process: in man it is 6–7 m long, in cattle 27–49 m, in dogs 1.8–4.8 m, in cats 0.8–1.3 m, and in swine 16–21 m. In man the diameter of the small intestine is 48 mm in the initial section and 27 mm at the place where the ileum empties into the large intestine.

The walls of all sections of the small intestine are composed of mucous, submucous, and serous membranes and a muscular coat. Each section varies in the microscopic and submicroscopic characteristics of the intestinal wall, which reflect differences in function. The surface area of the small intestine’s mucous membrane is greatly increased by folds and protuberances: examples are the spiral valve in the mucous membrane of some fishes, and the villi, folds, and crypts in the small intestine of birds, mammals, and man.

Food is digested both in the intestinal cavity itself and by means of membrane-mediated (parietal) digestion. Cavitary digestion is achieved by the flow of pancreatic juice, bile, and intestinal juice into the lumen of the small intestine. During this process, supramolecular aggregates and the large molecules of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the food mass are hydrolyzed by the proteolytic, amylolytic, and lipolytic enzymes in the small intestine. The products of intermediate hydrolysis are adsorbed on the surface of the mucous membrane of the small intestine, where the final stages of hydrolysis and transition to absorption take place.

Parietal digestion is achieved by means of enzymes that are structurally bound to the cell membranes of the intestinal epithelium. The digestion and absorption of food in the small intestine are accompanied by contractions of the intestinal walls that mix and stir the chyme and propel it through the intestine.


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