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Salivary gland
Salivary glands: #1 is Parotid gland, #2 is Submandibular gland, #3 is Sublingual gland
Latin glandulae salivariae
Gray's subject #
MeSH A03.556.500.760
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The salivary glands in mammals are exocrine glands that produce saliva. In other taxa such as insects, salivary glands are often used to produce biologically important proteins such as silk or glues. Salivary glands have proven to be very useful to students of genetics due to the occurrence of polytene chromosomes that are common in the salivary gland cells of many Diptera.


Saliva keeps the mouth and other parts of the digestive system moist.

Saliva also helps break down carbohydrates (with salivary amylase, formerly known as ptyalin) and lubricates the passage of food down from the oropharynx to the stomach.


A summary is provided in the following table.

Summary of salivary gland features[1]
Salivary gland Location Secretion Cranial nerve Parasympathetic ganglion Contribution to
salivary volume
Parotid gland near the ear Serous CN IX (glossopharyngeal nerve) Otic 25%
Sublingual gland underneath the tongue Mixed, mostly mucous CN VII (facial nerve) Submandibular 5%
Submandibular gland ramus of the mandible Mixed, mostly serous CN VII (facial nerve) Submandibular 70%
Ebner's glands surrounding circumvallate papillae Serous - - -
minor glands tongue, cheeks, lips, and palate Mucous - - -

Salivary glands are innervated by the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system.


The glands are enclosed in a capsule of connective tissue and internally divided into lobules. Blood vessels and nerves enter the glands at the hilum and gradually branch out into the lobules.


There are 3 main types of cells that are found in the major salivary glands:

  1. Serous cells, which are pyramidal in shape and are joined to usually form a spherical mass of cells called acinus, with a small lumen in the centre. Serous demilunes are found in the submandibular gland.
  2. Mucous cells are usually cuboid in shape and organised as tubules, consisting of cylindrical arrays of secretory cells surrounding a lumen. These cells produce glycoproteins that are used for the moistening and lubricating functions of saliva.
  3. Myoepithelial cells surround each secretory portion and are able to contract to accelerate secretion of the saliva.


In the duct system, the lumens formed by the secretory cells empty into intercalated ducts, which in turn join to form striated ducts. These drain into ducts situated between the lobes of the gland (called interlobar ducts or excretory ducts).

The main duct of the salivary glands ultimately empties into the mouth.


Salivary glands are innervated, either directly or indirectly, by the parasympathetic and sympathetic arms of the autonomic nervous system.

  • The sympathetic nervous system affects salivary gland secretions indirectly by innervating the blood vessels that supply the glands.

Role in disease

See mumps (parotiditis epidemica), Sjögren syndrome and Mucocele.

Salivary duct calculus may cause blockage of the ducts, causing pain and swelling of the gland.

Tumors of the salivary glands may occur. These are usually benign, but may be malignant. The most common type of benign tumor is pleomorphic adenoma, followed by Warthin's tumor. The most common malignant tumor is mucoepidermoid carcinoma.

Diagnostic investigation

A sialogram is a radiocontrast study of a salivary duct.

Additional images


  1. Douglas F. Paulsen (2000). Histology & cell biology: examination and board review, New York: Lange Medical Books, McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0-8385-0593-7.

External links

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