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Histology Of The Liver

Unveiling the intricate histology of the liver: explore its microscopic wonders and discover the secrets behind this vital organ's remarkable functions.

USMLE Guide: Histology of the Liver


The liver is an essential organ responsible for numerous vital functions within the body. Understanding the histology of the liver is crucial for medical students preparing for the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). This guide aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the histological features of the liver, highlighting key concepts and structures that are likely to be tested.

Liver Structure

The liver is composed of lobules, which are the functional and structural units of the liver. Each lobule consists of hepatocytes, the main parenchymal cells, arranged in a hexagonal shape around a central vein. The lobules are further organized into portal triads, consisting of a branch of the hepatic artery, portal vein, and bile duct.


Hepatocytes are the predominant cells of the liver and possess numerous unique features. Key histological features of hepatocytes include:

  1. Polyhedral shape: Hepatocytes are polygonal cells with distinct borders.
  2. Large nucleus: The nucleus of hepatocytes is typically round or oval, located centrally within the cell.
  3. Eosinophilic cytoplasm: Hepatocytes have abundant cytoplasm that stains pink with eosin.
  4. Sinusoidal surfaces: Hepatocytes are in direct contact with the sinusoidal capillaries, facilitating the exchange of substances.
  5. Arrangement in plates: Hepatocytes are organized in plates or cords radiating from the central vein towards the portal triads.


Sinusoids are specialized capillaries located within the liver. Key features of sinusoids include:

  1. Discontinuous endothelium: Sinusoidal endothelial cells have fenestrations (pores) that allow the passage of macromolecules.
  2. Kupffer cells: These are resident macrophages within the sinusoids responsible for phagocytosis.
  3. Space of Disse: Located between sinusoids and hepatocytes, this space contains extracellular matrix components and facilitates the exchange of substances between hepatocytes and sinusoids.

Portal Triad

The portal triad is a distinctive structure within the liver that consists of three components:

  1. Hepatic artery: Supplies oxygenated blood to the liver.
  2. Portal vein: Carries nutrient-rich blood from the gastrointestinal tract to the liver.
  3. Bile duct: Collects and transports bile produced by hepatocytes.

Bile Canaliculi

Bile canaliculi are small channels that form a network between adjacent hepatocytes. Key points about bile canaliculi include:

  1. Transport of bile: Bile canaliculi are responsible for transporting bile, which is essential for digestion and waste elimination.
  2. Location: Bile canaliculi are located between adjacent hepatocytes, forming a network that converges into bile ductules.

Common Liver Pathologies

Understanding the histology of the liver is particularly important for recognizing common liver pathologies, which may be tested on the USMLE. Some notable conditions include:

  1. Hepatitis: Inflammation of the liver often caused by viral infection, leading to hepatocyte damage.
  2. Cirrhosis: Chronic liver disease characterized by the replacement of liver tissue with fibrosis and nodules, resulting in impaired liver function.
  3. Hepatocellular carcinoma: A primary liver cancer that arises from hepatocytes and may exhibit characteristic histological features.


The histology of the liver plays a vital role in understanding its structure and function. Medical students preparing for the USMLE should familiarize themselves with the key histological features of the liver, including hepatocytes, sinusoids, bile canaliculi, and the portal triad. Additionally, recognizing common liver pathologies based on histological findings is crucial for clinical practice.

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