Despite a longstanding research interest ever since the early work by Claude Bernard, the functional significance of autonomic liver innervation, either sympathetic or parasympathetic, is still ill defined. This scarcity of information not only holds for the brain control of hepatic metabolism, but also for the metabolic sensing function of the liver and the way in which this metabolic information from the liver affects the brain. Clinical information from the bedside suggests that successful human liver transplantation (implying a complete autonomic liver denervation) causes no life threatening metabolic derangements, at least in the absence of severe metabolic challenges such as hypoglycemia. However, from the benchside, data are accumulating that interference with the neuronal brain-liver connection does cause pronounced changes in liver metabolism. This review provides an extensive overview on how metabolic information is sensed by the liver, and how this information is processed via neuronal pathways to the brain. With this information the brain controls liver metabolism and that of other organs and tissues. We will pay special attention to the hypothalamic pathways involved in these liver-brain-liver circuits. At this stage, we still do not know the final destination and processing of the metabolic information that is transferred from the liver to the brain. On the other hand, in recent years, there has been a considerable increase in the understanding which brain areas are involved in the control of liver metabolism via its autonomic innervation. However, in view of the ever rising prevalence of type 2 diabetes, this potentially highly relevant knowledge is still by far too limited. Thus the autonomic innervation of the liver and its role in the control of metabolism needs our continued and devoted attention.
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