Mesenchyme is a type of animal tissue comprised of loose cells embedded in a mesh of proteins and fluid, called the extracellular matrix. The loose, fluid nature of mesenchyme allows its cells to migrate easily and play a crucial role in the origin and development of morphological structures during the embryonic and fetal stages of animal life. Mesenchyme directly gives rise to most of the body's connective tissues, from bones and cartilage to the lymphatic and circulatory systems. Furthermore, the interactions between mesenchyme and another tissue type, epithelium, help to form nearly every organ in the body.
Frederik Ruysch, working in the Netherlands, introduced the term epithelia in the third volume of his Thesaurus Anatomicus in 1703. Ruysch created the term from the Greek epi, which means on top of, and thele, which means nipple, to describe the type of tissue he found when dissecting the lip of a cadaver. In the mid nineteenth century, anatomist Albrecht von Haller adopted the word epithelium, designating Ruysch's original terminology as the plural version. In modern science, epithelium is a type of animal tissue in which cells are packed into neatly arranged sheets. The epithelial cells lie proximate to each other and attach to a thin, fibrous sheet called a basement membrane. Epithelia line the surfaces of cavities and structures throughout the body, and also form glands. Although they lack blood vessels, epithelia contain nerves and can function to receive sensation, absorb, protect, and secrete, depending on which part of the body the epithelia line. During development, epithelia act in conjunction with another tissue type, mesenchyme, to form nearly every organ in the body, from hair and teeth to the digestive tract. Epithelia are an essential part of embryonic development and the maintenance and function of the body throughout life.