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What is Simple Columnar Epithelium?

V. Cassiopia
V. Cassiopia

Simple columnar epithelium is an epithelial tissue where the cells are up to four times as tall as they are wide. Its major characteristic is that it is uni-layered, meaning it has only a single layer of cells, with the cells being closely packed in long, thin, repeating patterns of columns. This is the primary tissue type lining the surfaces, or mucosa, of the digestive tract organs such as the stomach and the intestines.

Divided into two major categories, simple columnar epithelium is either ciliated or non-ciliated. Ciliated epithelium contains highly concentrated masses of small, thread-like filaments on its surface that vibrate in wave patterns. This vibratory movement extends throughout the length of the digestive tract and helps to move ingested substances along to different digestive organs, such as the stomach and intestines.

Simple columnar epithelium is an epithelial tissue that lines digestive tract organs.
Simple columnar epithelium is an epithelial tissue that lines digestive tract organs.

Epithelial tissue lines the inner and outer surfaces of the entire human body, and it is differentiated according to the type of surface it lines or covers. It can have several layers with three primary types: squamous, or flattened; cuboidal, shaped like a cube; or columnar, shaped like a column. Simple columnar epithelium is a single layer of columnar epithelial tissue resting upon a membrane or basement membrane that contains fibers for anchoring this tissue to other structures and organs. Moreover, this tissue is termed endothelium when it lines the inner surfaces of body organs, and it is called exothelium when it lines their outer surfaces.

This distinction in terminology is important when identifying disorders or cancers affecting columnar epithelial tissue. Since this epithelial tissue extends throughout the entire range of the digestive system, it is highly exposed to ingested toxins and bacteria, ranging from the mouth and throat region down to the anal canal, where waste material is eliminated. This tissue is also highly subject to carcinomas, or cancers, which may in part be due to its ability to undergo rapid regrowth rates; the cells can produce rapidly growing cancers, as well as natural cell regeneration.

The structural formation of simple columnar epithelium along the basement membrane may help to prevent spreading of a gastric cancer that develops locally within the stomach or intestines, termed a carcinoma in situ. This membrane serves as a wall to stop cancer cells from going down into the deep tissues and helps confine the cancer in its early stages to a more limited region. Such regional cancers have a high risk of growing and spreading, however, and early medical management is of primary importance in this regard.

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Discussion Comments


@indigomoth - No matter how many times I look at pictures of simple columnar epithelial tissue for class, it doesn't seem to look any different from any other kind of cells they show us.

But I eventually realized that they almost always are at the edge of the layer of tissue. If it forms an obvious edge, perhaps with cilla on it, then you can start trying to further ID it as simple epithelium cells because that's what it's likely to be.

I know that's kind of cheating in a way, but it has worked for me so far!


If you're trying to learn about cells, what might help is to know that these are called "simple" because there is only one layer.

You can also get "stratified" columnar epithelium cells, for example on the tongue.

They are in the saliva glands because they are involved in secretion.

Generally the simple ones are involved in moving around "mucus" like you might find in the throat or in the stomach. They can also be involved in absorbing, like the ones in your stomach lining which absorb nutrients.

They are pretty easy to identify once you've seen a few pictures and compared them with other kinds of cells.


If you are prone to this kind of colon cancer, like if it runs in your family, or even if you are simply at a certain age, you should regularly get yourself checked, however unpleasant it might be.

I know once I get old enough I'm going to get checked regularly. My grandfather had several growths removed over his last couple of decades and they were always caught before they became more than a carcinoma in situ.

While these cells are there to provide a first defense, you have to make sure you are going to back them up with check ups. Because I have known people who were sick with gastric, or similar cancers and it is not a fun time.

However much you dislike having a colonoscopy, I guarantee you'd dislike the cancer more.

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    • Simple columnar epithelium is an epithelial tissue that lines digestive tract organs.
      By: graphicgeoff
      Simple columnar epithelium is an epithelial tissue that lines digestive tract organs.