To protect acinar cells from self-digestion, the powerful digestive enzymes that the cells make are initially produced in an inactive form, notes Pancreas.org. These inert enzymes are converted into an active form once they reach the small intestines, explains the University of Washington.
Acinar cells are one of the two cells that make up the exocrine pancreas, a gland that secretes digestive enzymes into the intestines, notes Pancreas.org. The other cells of the exocrine pancreas are called duct cells. Acinar cells produce enzymes that turn vegetables, meat and other foods into a liquid. In order to avoid self-digestion, these cells produce digestive enzymes in an inert form known as zymogens; these are eventually converted into an active form called trypsin upon reaching the small intestines.
Further protection from self-digestion is provided by a trypsin inhibitor produced by acinar cells, which stops the enzyme from converting into an active form while still in the pancreas, notes the University of Washington. Autolysis, a mechanism that causes trypsin to self-digest, also prevents damage to the pancreas. By producing a fluid that flushes zymogens and any active enzymes into the small intestines, duct cells keep acinar cells and the rest of the pancreas safe from self-digestion.