Epithelial Tissue


Epithelial Tissue


Epithelial tissues are widespread throughout the body. They form the covering of all body surfaces, line body cavities and hollow organs, and are the major tissue in glands. They perform a variety of functions that include protection, secretion, absorption, excretion, filtration, diffusion, and sensory reception.

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:

  • Protection for the underlying tissues from radiation, desiccation, toxins, and physical trauma.
  • Absorption of substances in the digestive tract lining with distinct modifications.
  • Regulation and excretion of chemicals between the underlying tissues and the body cavity.
  • 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.
  • The detection of sensation.
  • Excretion Function.

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.

Basal Membrane

Epithelial cellular organizations are located on the basal membrane. The basal membrane is a thin extracellular matrix. It consists of the basal lamina, which is itself divided into the laminae rara externa and interna, the lamina densa, and the lamina fibroreticularis (except in renal corpuscles).
The function of the basal membrane is to stabilize the epithelial and endothelial cell layers. The attachment of cells is achieved with the help of syndecan or laminin and integrin. Microfilaments attach the lamina fibrorecticularis to the perlecan in the lamina densa. Epithelial cells regenerate on the basal membrane.

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.

Simple Epithelia

Simple epithelium consists of a single layer of cells. They are typically where absorption, secretion and filtration occur. The thinness of the epithelial barrier facilitates these processes.
Simple epithelial tissues are generally classified by the shape of their cells. The four major classes of simple epithelium are:

  • Simple squamous
  • Simple cuboidal
  • Simple columnar
  • Pseudostratified
  • Stratified Epithelium
  • Keratinized Epithelia
  • Transitional Epithelia

Simple squamous epithelium cells are flat in shape and arranged in a single layer. This single layer is thin enough to form a membrane that compounds can move through via passive diffusion. This epithelial type is found in the walls of capillaries, linings of the pericardium, and the linings of the alveoli of the lungs.

Simple Cuboidal

Simple cuboidal epithelium consists of a single layer cell that are as tall as they are wide. The important functions of the simple cuboidal epithelium are secretion and absorption. This epithelial type is found in the small collecting ducts of the kidneys, pancreas, and salivary glands.

Simple Columnar

Simple columnar epithelium is a single row of tall, closely packed cells, aligned in a row. These cells are found in areas with high secretory function (such as the wall of the stomach), or absorptive areas (as in small intestine). They possess cellular extensions (e.g., microvilli in the small intestine, or the cilia found almost exclusively in the female reproductive tract).


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 cilia. In this case, the epithelium is described as ciliated pseudostratified epithelium. 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

Stratified epithelium differs from simple epithelium by being multilayered. It is therefore found where body linings have to withstand mechanical or chemical insults.
Stratified epithelia are more durable and protection is one their major functions. Since stratified epithelium consists of two or more layers, the basal cells divide and push towards the apex, and in the process flatten the apical cells.
Stratified epithelia can be columnar, cuboidal, or squamous type. However, it can also have the following specializations:

Keratinized Epithelia

In keratinized epithelia, the most apical layers (exterior) of cells are dead and lose their nucleus and cytoplasm. They contain a tough, resistant protein called keratin. This specialization makes the epithelium waterproof, and it is abundant in mammalian skin. The lining of the esophagus is an example of a non-keratinized or moist stratified epithelium.

Transitional Epithelia

Transitional epithelia are 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.

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