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Intrahepatic distribution of nerves in Suncus murinus by whole-mount immunohistological observation

Ke Ren1, Xiangquan Chen1, Ting Yang2, Rujia Li3, Shuang-Qin Yi3


Background: In recent years, elucidating the actual state of the liver nervous system has attracted attention, owing to clinical needs, such as liver transplantation. Conventional methods for studying the intrahepatic nerve distribution mostly use liver tissue sections, specific markers for immunohistological studies, or anterograde/retrograde tracing in animals. However, knowledge of the three-dimensional structure of intrahepatic innervation is vague or speculative.

Materials and methods: In this study, Suncus murinus (Suncus) (n = 10) were perfused and fixed, the livers were excised, and the liver parenchyma was carefully removed, leaving only the intrahepatic vasculature. Specimens were prepared to study the three-dimensional structure of Suncus intrahepatic and hilar innervation by whole-mount immunohistochemical staining using a neurofilament protein antibody.

Results: After the nerves running along the intrahepatic arterial system entered the liver parenchyma from the hepatic hilum, they maintained a relatively rich distribution along the interlobular arteries until the distal end. The innervation of the portal system began to decrease after entering the liver parenchyma and decreased significantly after reaching the deep parts. By the time it reached the end of the interlobular vein, there was very little left. The number of nerves running along the intrahepatic bile duct system was significantly reduced after entering the porta hepatis, and innervation was difficult to observe after completely entering the liver parenchyma.

Conclusions: Whole-mount immunohistochemical analyses with an anti-NFP antibody showed that intrahepatic innervation mainly accompanied the hepatic interlobular arteries and extended to their terminal ends. Neuronal regulation is very important in the functional regulation of intrahepatic nutritional vessels. However, there were very few NFP-immunoreactive nerves accompanying the intrahepatic bile duct system, possibly suggesting that the functional regulation of the intrahepatic biliary system mainly relies on hormones and neuropeptides.

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