The lobules of liver (lobuli hepatis) form the chief mass of the hepatic substance; they may be seen either on the surface of the organ, or by making a section through the gland, as small granular bodies, about the size of a millet-seed, measuring from 1 to 2.5 mm. in diameter.
In the human subject their outlines are very irregular; but in some of the lower animals (for example, the pig) they are well-defined, and, when divided transversely, have polygonal outlines.
The bases of the lobules are clustered around the smallest radicles (sublobular) of the hepatic veins, to which each is connected by means of a small branch which issues from the center of the lobule (intralobular).
The remaining part of the surface of each lobule is imperfectly isolated from the surrounding lobules by a thin stratum of areolar tissue, in which is contained a plexus of vessels, the interlobular plexus, and ducts. In some animals, as the pig, the lobules are completely isolated from one another by the interlobular areolar tissue.
If one of the sublobular veins be laid open, the bases of the lobules may be seen through the thin wall of the vein on which they rest, arranged in a form resembling a tesselated pavement, the center of each polygonal space presenting a minute aperture, the mouth of an intralobular vein.
Microscopic Appearance —Each lobule consists of a mass of cells, hepatic cells, arranged in irregular radiating columns between which are the blood channels (sinusoids). These convey the blood from the circumference to the center of the lobule, and end in the intralobular vein, which runs through its center, to open at its base into one of the sublobular veins. Between the cells are also the minute bile capillaries. Therefore, in the lobule there are all the essentials of a secreting gland; that is to say: (1) cells, by which the secretion is formed; (2) bloodvessels, in close relation with the cells, containing the blood from which the secretion is derived; (3) ducts, by which the secretion, when formed, is carried away.
- 1. The hepatic cells are polyhedral in form. They vary in size from 12 to 25µ in diameter. They contain one or sometimes two distinct nuclei. The nucleus exhibits an intranuclear network and one or two refractile nucleoli. The cells usually contain granules; some of which are protoplasmic, while others consist of glycogen, fat, or an iron compound. In the lower vertebrates, e.g., frog, the cells are arranged in tubes with the bile duct forming the lumen and bloodvessels externally. According to Delépine, evidences of this arrangement can be found in the human liver.
- 2. The Bloodvessels.—The blood in the capillary plexus around the liver cells is brought to the liver principally by the portal vein, but also to a certain extent by the hepatic artery.
- The hepatic artery, entering the liver at the porta with the portal vein and hepatic duct, ramifies with these vessels through the portal canals. It gives off vaginal branches, which ramify in the fibrous capsule of Glisson, and appear to be destined chiefly for the nutrition of the coats of the vessels and ducts. It also gives off capsular branches, which reach the surface of the organ, ending in its fibrous coat in stellate plexuses. Finally, it gives offinterlobular branches, which form a plexus outside each lobule, to supply the walls of the interlobular veins and the accompanying bile ducts. From this plexus lobular branches enter the lobule and end in the net-work of sinusoids between the cells.
- The portal vein also enters at the porta, and runs through the portal canals ,enclosed in Glisson's capsule, dividing in its course into branches, which finally break up into a plexus, the interlobular plexus, in the interlobular spaces. These branches receive the vaginal and capsular veins, corresponding to the vaginal and capsular branches of the hepatic artery. Thus it will be seen that all the blood carried to the liver by the portal vein and hepatic artery finds its way into the interlobular plexus. From this plexus the blood is carried into the lobule by fine branches which converge from the circumference to the center of the lobule, and are connected by transverse branches . The walls of these small vessels are incomplete so that the blood is brought into direct relationship with the liver cells. The lining endothelium consists of irregularly branched, disconnected cells (stellate cells of Kupffer). Moreover, according to Herring and Simpson, minute channels penetrate the liver cells themselves, conveying the constituents of the blood into their substance. It will be seen that the blood capillaries of the liver lobule differ structurally from capillaries elsewhere. Developmentally they are formed by the growth of the columns of liver cells into large blood spaces or sinuses, and hence they have received the name of "sinusoids." Arrived at the center of the lobule, the sinusoids empty themselves into one vein, of considerable size, which runs down the center of the lobule from apex to base, and is called the intralobular vein. At the base of the lobule this vein opens directly into thesublobular vein, with which the lobule is connected. The sublobular veins unite to form larger and larger trunks, and end at last in the hepatic veins, these converge to form three large trunks which open into the inferior vena cava while that vessel is situated in its fossa on the posterior surface of the liver.
3. The bile ducts commence by little passages in the liver cells which communicate with canaliculi termed intercellular biliary passages (bile capillaries). These passages are merely little channels or spaces left between the contiguous surfaces of two cells, or in the angle where three or more liver cells meet, and they are always separated from the blood capillaries by at least half the width of a liver cell. The channels thus formed radiate to the circumference of the lobule, and open into the interlobular bile ducts which run in Glisson's capsule, accompanying the portal vein and hepatic artery. These join with other ducts to form two main trunks, which leave the liver at the transverse fissure, and by their union form the hepatic duct.Structure of the Ducts.—The walls of the biliary ducts consist of a connective-tissue coat, in which are muscle cells, arranged both circularly and longitudinally, and an epithelial layer, consisting of short columnar cells resting on a distinct basement membrane.