Decreased hepatic nerve fiber innervation in patients with liver cirrhosis

Gut Liver. 2007 Dec;1(2):165-70. doi: 10.5009/gnl.2007.1.2.165. Epub 2007 Dec 31.


Background/aims: Hepatic nerve innervation plays important roles in hepatic metabolism and hemodynamic mechanisms. We compared the distribution patterns of hepatic nerves between normal livers and two liver diseases to elucidate the effects of liver disease on the distribution of hepatic nerves.

Methods: Tissue specimens were obtained by ultrasonography-guided needle biopsies from 10 normal controls, 74 patients with chronic hepatitis (CH), and 35 patients with liver cirrhosis (LC). The obtained specimens were immunohistochemically stained using antibodies for S-100 protein and alpha-smooth-muscle actin (alpha-SMA). The degree of the expression in liver tissues was quantified by manual counting of positively stained nerve fibers under light microscopy. The serum hyaluronic acid level was assayed in all subjects to evaluate hepatic fibrosis. Electron microscopy examinations were also performed.

Results: The hepatic nerve innervation was significantly lower in LC than in normal controls, as indicated by S-100 protein staining. alpha-SMA and hyaluronic acid levels were higher in LC and CH than in normal controls. Electron microscopy revealed that unmyelinated nerve fiber bundles in the intralobar connective tissue coursed in the vicinity of hepatic triads.

Conclusions: These results suggest that hepatic nerve innervation can be decreased by hepatic inflammatory responses and/or fibrotic changes in LC patients. Further study is needed to clarify this observation.

Keywords: Electron microscopy; Hepatic nerve innervation; Hyaluronic acid; S-100; α-SMA.