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General Structure of the Digestive System

The long continuous tube that is the digestive tract is about 9 meters in length. It opens to the outside at both ends, through the mouth at one end and through the anus at the other. Although there are variations in each region, the basic structure of the wall is the same throughout the entire length of the tube.

The wall of the digestive tract has four layers or tunics:

  • Mucosa
  • Submucosa
  • Muscular layer
  • Serous layer or serosa

The mucosa, or mucous membrane layer, is the innermost tunic of the wall. It lines the lumen of the digestive tract. The mucosa consists of epithelium, an underlying loose connective tissue layer called lamina propria, and a thin layer of smooth muscle called the muscularis mucosa. In certain regions, the mucosa develops folds that increase the surface area. Certain cells in the mucosa secrete mucus, digestive enzymes, and hormones. Ducts from other glands pass through the mucosa to the lumen. In the mouth and anus, where thickness for protection against abrasion is needed, the epithelium is stratified squamous tissue. The stomach and intestines have a thin simple columnar epithelial layer for secretion and absorption.

The submucosa is a thick layer of loose connective tissue that surrounds the mucosa. This layer also contains blood vessels, lymphatic vessels, and nerves. Glands may be embedded in this layer.

The smooth muscle responsible for movements of the digestive tract is arranged in two layers, an inner circular layer and an outer longitudinal layer. The myenteric plexus is between the two muscle layers.

Above the diaphragm, the outermost layer of the digestive tract is a connective tissue called adventitia. Below the diaphragm, it is called serosa.