Digestive System > Pregastric Physiology

Salivary Glands and Saliva

Saliva is produced in and secreted from salivary glands. The basic secretory units of salivary glands are clusters of cells called an acini. These cells secrete a fluid that contains water, electrolytes, mucus and enzymes, all of which flow out of the acinus into collecting ducts.

Within the ducts, the composition of the secretion is altered. Much of the sodium is actively reabsorbed, potassium is secreted, and large quantities of bicarbonate ion are secreted. Bicarbonate secretion is of tremendous importance to ruminants because it, along with phosphate, provides a critical buffer that neutralizes the massive quantities of acid produced in the forestomachs. Small collecting ducts within salivary glands lead into larger ducts, eventually forming a single large duct that empties into the oral cavity.

Most animals have three major pairs of salivary glands that differ in the type of secretion they produce:

The basis for different glands secreting saliva of differing composition can be seen by examining salivary glands histologically. Two basic types of acinar epithelial cells exist:

Acini in the parotid glands are almost exclusively of the serous type, while those in the sublingual glands are predominantly mucus cells. In the submaxillary glands, it is common to observe acini composed of both serous and mucus epithelial cells.

In the histologic sections of canine salivary gland shown above, the cells stained pink are serous cells, while the white, foamy cells are mucus-secreting cells.

Secretion of saliva is under control of the autonomic nervous system, which controls both the volume and type of saliva secreted. This is actually fairly interesting: a dog fed dry dog food produces saliva that is predominantly serous, while dogs on a meat diet secrete saliva with much more mucus. Parasympathetic stimulation from the brain, as was well demonstated by Ivan Pavlov, results in greatly enhanced secretion, as well as increased blood flow to the salivary glands.

Potent stimuli for increased salivation include the presence of food or irritating substances in the mouth, and thoughts of or the smell of food. Knowing that salivation is controlled by the brain will also help explain why many psychic stimuli also induce excessive salivation - for example, why some dogs salivate all over the house when it's thundering

What then are the important functions of saliva? Saliva serves many roles, some of which are important to all species, and others to only a few:

Diseases of the salivary glands and ducts are not uncommon in animals and man, and excessive salivation is a symptom of almost any lesion in the oral cavity. The dripping of saliva seen in rabid animals is not actually a result of excessive salivation, but due to pharyngeal paralysis, which prevents saliva from being swallowed.

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