This article, component 4 in a 6-part series, describes the physiology and also functions the the jejunum and ileum, the last 2 sections of the small intestine, where most absorption of nutrient takes place


After that passage with the duodenum, where many chemical cradle takes place, chyme passes with the jejunum and ileum. Their main role is come ensure the the assorted molecules result from chemistry digestion pass through the gut wall into the blood or lymph. This process of nutrient absorb is assisted by the presence of folds and also projections that hugely increase the surface area of the gut wall, and also regular contractions that the rings of smooth muscle that move intestinal contents earlier and forth. This article, the 4th in a six-part collection exploring the cradle tract, describes the anatomy and also functions of the jejunum and also ileum.

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Citation: Nigam Y et al (2019) Gastrointestinal tract 4: anatomy and function of the jejunum and also ileum. Nursing Times ; 115: 9, 43-46.

Authors: Yamni Nigam is professor in biomedical science; man Knight is associate professor in biomedical science; Nikki Williams is associate professor in respiratory tract physiology; every at the university of Human and also Health Sciences, Swansea University.

This write-up has to be double-blind peer reviewed


With the exception of ingestion, the tiny and huge intestines lug out every the major functions the the digestive system. This is whereby the ‘real business’ of cradle takes place. The intestines take up many of the room in the ab cavity and also constitute the greatest part of the cradle (GI) street in regards to mass and also length. They receive their blood supply v the mesenteric artery.

The tiny intestine is around five times much longer than the big intestine yet has a smaller sized diameter (about 2.54cm versus 7.62cm), which is why it is referred to as ‘small’. That comprises the duodenum (25cm), jejunum (around 2.5m) and also ileum (around 3.5m). Tethered to the posterior wall of the abdomen through the mesentery (an expansion of the peritoneum), the entire convolution of the tiny intestine lies loosely in the abdominal cavity, framed through the colon (Fig 1). Its folds and the projections in its lining create an enormous surface area of roughly 200m2 – more than 100 times the surface area of the skin – i m sorry is vital for the absorb of nutrient (Wilson, 2008).

Peter Lamb

The anatomy and duty of the duodenum, the an initial part that the small intestine, is explained in part 3 that this series on the GI tract. Having received acidic chyme from the stomach, the duodenum completes a huge part of the procedure of chemical digestion, liberating little molecules native ingested food (see part 3). When this is done, the jejunum and ileum mainly assume the duty of soaking up these molecules (amino acids, monosaccharides and lipids), i beg your pardon pass into the bloodstream come be used by the body. This article, part 4 of the series, describes the anatomy and functions of the jejunum and also ileum.

Anatomy of the jejunum

The jejunum provides up two-fifths of the full length the the small intestine and also is around 0.9m in length. The starts in ~ the duodenojejunal flexure and also ends in ~ the ileum. Over there is no clear border between the jejunum and also the ileum. Histologically, the jejunum different from the rest of the little intestine through the absence of Brunner’s glands (which are existing in the duodenum – watch part 3) and also Peyer’s patches (which are present in the ileum – view part 1 and below).

A large surface area is a prerequisite for the optimal absorption of nutrients, therefore the wall of the jejunum has the following features that boost its surface ar area:

Circular folds;Villi;Microvilli.

These attributes are also found, albeit v slight differences, in the ileum.

Circular folds

Macroscopically noticeable room the numerous circular folds (or valves the Kerckring) to run parallel to each various other in the mucosa that the jejunum. This deep ridges in the mucosal lining triple the surface ar area the the absorptive mucosa in the minister wall. They also slow down the flow of chyme, together their shape reasons it to take trip in a spiral fashion rather than relocating down the GI street in a straight line (Welcome, 2018). This slowing down provides an ext time for nutrients to be absorbed.


Located in the one folds and also measuring 0.5-1mm in length, finger-like projections well-known as villi expand into the minister lumen (Fig 2), multiplying by 10 the surface area accessible for nutrient absorption. Every villus has a:

Capillary bed – comprising an arteriole and a venule;Lymphatic capillary – central lacteal (Fig 3).

The venules allow glucose and also amino mountain to be soaked up directly into the bloodstream, while assets from the break down of lipids (fatty acids and glycerol) are absorbed into the lymphatic device via the lacteals.

Peter Lamb


Peter Lamb


The mucosal epithelial cells (Fig 3) have thin, hair-like extensions around 1μm (0.001mm) in length, jutting out into the intestinal lumen. These tiny projections are known as microvilli and also there are around 200 million that them per 1mm2. They broaden the surface area obtainable for nutrient absorption by one more 20 times. Microscopically, they appear as a massive of bristles and also are, therefore, termed the brush border. Addressed to the surface of the microvilli are a series of enzymes that complete chemical digestion.

Anatomy of the ileum

The ileum is the longest part of the small intestine, making up around three-fifths the its full length. That is thicker and more vascular than the jejunum, and also the one folds space less thick and an ext separated (Keuchel et al, 2013). At the distal end, the ileum is separated indigenous the large intestine by the ileocaecal valve, a sphincter created by the one muscle class of the ileum and caecum, and also controlled through nerves and hormones. The ileocaecal valve avoids reflux the the bacteria-rich content from the huge intestine into the small intestine.

The ileum is well-off in immune organization (lymphoid follicles). A characteristic attribute is Peyer’s patches, uncovered lying in the mucosa, i m sorry are an important part that gut-associated lymphoid tissue. One Peyer’s job is approximately 2-5cm long and also consists of around 300 aggregated lymphoid follicles. This are concentrated in the distal ileum and serve to keep bacteria indigenous entering the bloodstream.

Peyer’s patches space most significant in young people and also become less distinctive with age, which mirrors the age-related reduction in task of the gut’s immune system.

Digestion and absorption

The duodenum perfect a good deal of chemical digestion, and a little amount that nutrient absorb (see part 3); the main duty of the jejunum and ileum is to finish chemical cradle (enzymatic cleavage the nutrients) and absorb this nutrients together with water and also vitamins. The brush border of the little intestine contains enzymes that finish the procedure of chemistry digestion. Table 1 lists this enzymes and their roles.


The rings of smooth muscle in the wall surface of the little intestine continuously contract and relax in a procedure called segmentation. This move intestinal contents ago and forth. Segmentation distends the little intestine but does not drive chyme v the tract; instead, the mixes it with digestive juices and also then pushes it versus the mucosa to enable nutrient absorption.

Each day, about 8L that water (from dietary ingestion and also GI street secretions and juices, consisting of saliva), numerous hundred grams the carbohydrates, ≥100g of fat, 50-100g of amino acids and also 50-100g that salt ions pass v the wall of the little intestine and also into the blood (Hall, 2011).

The transport of nutrients across the membrane of the minister epithelial cells right into the villi, and subsequently right into blood capillaries and lacteals, occurs either passively or actively. Passive transport needs no energy and involves the diffusion of an easy molecules along a concentration gradient – motion from one area where they room in high concentration come one wherein they are in reduced concentration – in this case, the blood. Water and some vitamins can cross the gut wall passively. Energetic transport requires power to traction molecules out of the minister lumen versus a concentration gradient. In addition, particular molecules – such together glucose, amino acids and also vitamin B12 – have actually their own carriers or transporters, i m sorry they use to ‘piggyback’ throughout the gut wall surface into the bloodstream.


Digested carbohydrates enter the blood capillaries irrigating each villus. Nearly all ingested carbohydrates are took in as monosaccharides, 80% that which are glucose. Glucose is actively soaked up via a co-transport mechanism using sodium ions as carriers. Other absorbable monosaccharides encompass galactose indigenous milk and fructose from fruit.

Amino acids

Most products of protein digestion (amino acids) are also absorbed through an energetic co-transport device with sodium ions and also enter the blood capillary device of every villus. Lock then travel to the liver via the hepatic portal vein.


Digested fat mingle v bile salts, i m sorry ferry them come the mucosa wherein they space coated with lipoproteins and aggregated into little molecules dubbed chylomicrons, which are taken into the main lacteals the the villi. Lock travel with lymph to the thoracic duct, wherein they enter the blood supply. If over there is malabsorption that fats, these pass into the huge intestine, where they form pale, oily, foul-smelling stools (steatorrhoea – see part 3). Once that happens, details fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and also K) may also not be absorbed, potentially leading to deficiencies.

Vitamin B complex

The vitamin B complex encompasses eight water-soluble vitamins the are necessary for key functions of the body, consisting of red blood cell formation, maintain of healthy and balanced hair and also nails, and healthy work of the brain and heart. This eight vitamin are: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B7 (biotin), B9 (folate) and also B12 (cobalamin).

Vitamin B1. Essential for metabolism, vitamin B1 also plays a duty in healthy and balanced nerve conduction and also muscle contraction. That is found in fortified foods items such as bread and also cereals, but also in eggs, fish, nuts, legumes and details meats (Wiley and Gupta, 2019). Vitamin B1 deficiency is common in people who have actually a poor diet (for example, homeless people) and can cause a selection of disorders consisting of beriberi. In part cases, vitamin B1 deficiency deserve to be led to by long-term, hefty alcohol intake, which ultimately impairs the body’s capability to absorb the vitamin. Vitamin B1 deficiency caused by alcohol can an outcome in Wernicke’s encephalopathy or Korsakoff’s psychosis.

Vitamin B12. This vitamin is crucial for red blood cell development, normal functioning that the concerned system, cell metabolism and also DNA synthesis. The richest organic sources that vitamin B12 space liver and also kidney, however it is additionally present in meat, fish, dairy products products, eggs and also shellfish.

Vitamin B12 is liberated from ingested food in the acid milieu that the stomach. In the duodenum, that binds through intrinsic factor developed by the gastric parietal cell (see component 2); the is only in the bound kind that it deserve to be soaked up (Moll and also Davis, 2017). Absorption occurs in the terminal part of the ileum, wherein vitamin B12 attaches to details membrane receptors situated on absorptive cells (enterocytes) in ~ the bottom of the pits between the microvilli (Schjønsby, 1989). To leave the enterocytes and enter the bloodstream, the vitamin need to then bind to a transport protein, transcobalamin II.

A common reason of vitamin B12 deficiency is the destruction of gastric parietal cells by autoantibodies, i beg your pardon severely to reduce gastric acid production by the stomach and also leads come a condition known together pernicious anaemia (see component 2). Vitamin B12 deficiency have to not be ignored. If people who room deficient perform not receive injections that the vitamin they may experience severe an unfavorable consequences, consisting of dementia.

Movement in the direction of the big intestine

Digestive activity in the stomach provokes the gastroileal reflex, i beg your pardon stimulates peristalsis come push contents along the ileum and the colon. The reflex ensures the the content of one enjoy the meal is totally emptied native both the stomach and also the little intestine before the following meal is eaten. It deserve to take increase to five hours for every chyme to leave the tiny intestine (Young et al, 2014).

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When most of the chyme has been absorbed, the wall surfaces of the little intestine become less distended and also segmentation gives way to peristalsis, which helps relocate unabsorbed matter along towards the large intestine. Peristalsis works a small like squeezing toothpaste along and also out the a tube. With each recurring peristaltic contraction, chyme and also waste progressively move down the small intestine. When motility in the ileum increases, the ileocaecal valve relaxes, allowing food residue to enter the big intestine at the caecum.