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The term "epithelium" refers to layers of cells that line hollow organs and glands. It is also those cells that make up the outer surface of the body.

Epithelial cells help to protect or enclose organs. Most produce mucus or other secretions.

Certain types of epithelial cells have tiny hairs called cilia, which help remove foreign substances.

Epithelial cells are arranged in single, or multiple layers, depending on the organ and location.

Alternative Names

Epithelial cells


Epithelium. In: Kierszenbaum AL, Tres LL. Histology and Cell Biology - An Introduction to Pathology, 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 1.

Review Date 11/9/2014

Updated by: Jennifer K. Mannheim, ARNP, Medical Staff, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, Seattle Children's Hospital, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.