The human ductus venosus between 13 and 17 weeks of gestation: histological and morphometric studies

Ultrasound Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Jan;19(1):39-46. doi: 10.1046/j.1469-0705.2002.00614.x.


Background: Doppler studies of the ductus venosus are increasingly being integrated in the assessment of fetal well-being. Establishing the precise morphology and structure of the ductus venosus would provide a better understanding of Doppler findings during fetal adaptation. There is conflicting evidence from previous studies about the structure of the ductus venosus, especially with regard to the presence of a sphincter at the ductus venosus inlet. The aim of this study was to examine the morphology and histological structure of the ductus venosus wall and surrounding tissues at 13-17 weeks' gestation.

Design: This was a prospective study on 28 fetuses obtained from medical termination of pregnancies between 13 and 17 weeks' gestation. Scanning electron microscopy and histological and immunohistochemical studies were carried out on ductus venosus sections obtained from different spatial planes.

Results: The inlet of the ductus venosus contained a shelf which was rich in elastin, but devoid of any evidence of a smooth muscle sphincter. The isthmus of the ductus venosus above the inlet was narrowed, giving the lumen of the vessel an hourglass appearance. The endothelial surface of the ductus venosus, above the level of the inlet, showed longitudinal corrugations along its entire length. Longitudinally arranged elastin fibers were also seen along the length of the ductus venosus. A single layer of longitudinally arranged smooth muscle cells was present along the entire length of the ductus venosus, with occasional individual nerve cells visible in this layer.

Conclusions: The presence of an elastin-rich shelf and a narrow ductus venosus inlet orifice may act to accelerate flow from the portal sinus into a high-velocity system in the ductus venosus. The abundant elastin fibers in the adventitia of the ductus venosus may help antegrade wave propagation by elastic recoil. This study clearly demonstrates the lack of an anatomical smooth muscle sphincter at the ductus venosus inlet. However, the combination of endothelial corrugations and innervated smooth muscle support the hypothesis that the ductus venosus is an actively regulated vessel with the capacity to rapidly change diameter along its entire length in response to certain stimuli.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Endothelium, Vascular / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Fetus / blood supply*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Liver / embryology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Trimester, First
  • Prospective Studies
  • Veins / embryology*
  • Veins / ultrastructure