Vagal and spinal afferent innervation of the portal hepatic area has not been studied as thoroughly as the innervation of other important organs. It is generally agreed that unlike noradrenergic sympathetic efferent nerve fibers, sensory nerve fibers of either vagal or dorsal root/spinal origin do not directly innervate hepatocytes, but are restricted to the stroma surrounding triades of hepatic vasculature and bile ducts, and to extrahepatic portions of the portal vein and bile ducts. For vagal afferent innervation, retrograde and anterograde tracing studies in the rat have clearly shown that only a minor portion of the common hepatic branch innervates the liver area, while the major portion descends in the gastroduodenal branch toward duodenum, pancreas, and pylorus. Hepatic paraganglia, bile ducts, and portal vein receive the densest vagal afferent innervation. Calretinin may be a relatively specific marker for vagal afferent innervation of the portal-hepatic space. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) is a specific marker for dorsal root afferents, and CGRP-immunoreactive fibers are mainly present near the intrahepatic vascular bundles and bile ducts, and in the same extrahepatic compartments that contain vagal afferents. Because of the specific anatomical organization of hepatic nerves, selective hepatic denervation, whether selective for the vagal or sympathetic division, or for efferents and afferents, is nearly impossible. Great caution is therefore necessary when interpreting functional outcomes of so-called specific hepatic denervation studies.
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