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A mucous membrane or mucosa (plural, mucosae or mucosas; Latin tunica mucosa) is a biological membrane that lines various cavities in the body and surrounds internal organs. It is of endodermal origin and consists of a layer (or layers) of epithelial cells overlying a layer of loose connective tissue. It is continuous with the skin at various body openings such as the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, the urethral opening and the anus. Some mucous membranes secrete mucus, a thick protective fluid. The function of the membrane is to stop pathogens and dirt from entering the body and to prevent bodily tissues from becoming dehydrated.
Structure and function
The mucous membrane is a lining of mostly endodermal origin. It consists of an epithelium (a layer, or layers of epithelial cells) and an underlying lamina propria of loose connective tissue. Mucosae line various cavities of the body that are either externally exposed to the environment or are internal organs, and the mucous membranes ensure that the underlying lamina propria of connective tissue remains moist. They are at several places contiguous with skin: at the nostrils, the lips of the mouth, the eyelids, the ears, the trachea, the stomach, the genital area, and the anus.
Mucus prevents pathogens and dirt from entering the body and prevents bodily tissue from losing moisture. Mucous membranes are rather delicate; they are able to absorb a number of substances and toxins but are vulnerable regarding pain. If the lining is torn or broken, mucus is incapable of performing its roles of preventing infection and retaining tissue moisture levels.
In the female, the glans clitoridis and the clitoral hood have mucous membranes. In the male, the glans penis (the head of the penis) and the inner layer of the foreskin have mucous membranes. The urethra is also lined with a mucous membrane. Some mucous membranes are involved with digestion in the absorption of insoluble food molecules and secretion (releasing chemicals from glands). The thick fluid secreted by some mucous membranes and/or associated glands is termed mucus. The mucus can be protective.
Some examples of mucosae
- Bronchial mucosa and the lining of vocal folds
- Endometrium is the mucosa of the uterus
- Esophageal mucosa
- Gastric mucosa
- Intestinal mucosa
- Nasal mucosa
- Olfactory mucosa
- Oral mucosa
- Penile mucosa
- Vaginal mucosa
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