The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine in most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. In fish, the divisions of the small intestine are not as clear and the terms anterior intestine or proximal intestine may be used instead of duodenum. In mammals the duodenum may be the principal site for iron absorption.
The duodenum precedes the jejunum and ileum and is the shortest part of the small intestine, where most chemical digestion takes place. The name duodenum is from the Latin duodenum digitorum, or twelve fingers' breadths.
In humans, the duodenum is a hollow jointed tube about 10–12 inch long connecting the stomach to the jejunum. It begins with the duodenal bulb and ends at the ligament of Treitz.
The duodenum is largely responsible for the breakdown of food in the small intestine, using enzymes. Brunner's glands, which secrete mucus, are found in the duodenum. The duodenum wall is composed of a very thin layer of cells that form the muscularis mucosae. The duodenum is almost entirely retroperitoneal.
The duodenum also regulates the rate of emptying of the stomach via hormonal pathways. Secretin and cholecystokinin are released from cells in the duodenal epithelium in response to acidic and fatty stimuli present there when the pylorus opens and releases gastric chyme into the duodenum for further digestion. These cause the liver and gall bladder to release bile, and the pancreas to release bicarbonate and digestive enzymes such as trypsin, lipase and amylase into the duodenum as they are needed.
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