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The Liver: Structure and Function

Key Functions Of Liver Components

Hepatic Artery: Oxygenated blood enters the liver through the hepatic artery.
Hepatic Portal Vein: Blood rich in nutrients enters the liver, this comes from the
spleen, duodenum, stomach, pancreas, and large intestine.
Hepatic Vein: Transports deoxygenated blood containing excretory waste out from
the liver to be excreted via urine or faeces.
Bile Duct: Carries bile produced by the liver to the Gallbladder for storage.

Main functions of the liver

The liver's function is to filter blood coming from the digestive tract, and transporting it
to the rest of the body. The liver also detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes drugs. In
doing this, the liver secretes bile. The liver also makes proteins important for blood

Diagram of a liver lobule

Sinusoids, Canaliculi, And Kupffer Cells

Sinusoids are small blood vessels that transport blood through the liver lobules,
they are lined with a discontinuous endothelium and Kupffer cells are present in
Canaliculi, are thin tubes running through the liver lobules, they transport bile
secreted by hepatocytes to the bile duct.
Kupffer Cells are specialised macrophages present in the endothelium of
sinusoids, used to breakdown erythrocytes, and pathogens.

Functions of Hepatocytes
Protein Synthesis
Protein Storage
Transformation of Carbohydrates
Synthesis of cholesterol and bile

Deamination is the removal of an amino group from an amino acid

Urea is a colourless crystalline compound which is the main nitrogenous
breakdown product of protein metabolism in mammals and is excreted in urine.
The Ornithine cycle is a cycle of biochemical reactions occurring in many animals
that produces urea ((NH2)2CO) from ammonia (NH3).
A Keto Acid is an acid produced during deamination, it contains both a ketone
group and a carboxyl group.
Detoxification is the transformation of toxic substances to less toxic compounds.

How Urea Is produced

Role of the liver in detoxification

The liver detoxifies alcohol and drugs. Toxins can also be rendered harmless by oxidation,
reduction, methylation or a combination with another molecule. Liver cells contain many
enzymes that enable rendering of toxic molecules to a less toxic form. This includes
catalase which converts H2O2 to oxygen and water. Alcohol is a CNS depressant and
contains a lot of energy that can be used for respiration. The process by which is is
broken down is as follows:
STEP 1: Ethanol + Ethanol dehydrogenase Ethanal (occurs in the hepatocytes)
STEP 2: Ethanal + Ethanal dehydrogenase Ethanoic acid
STEP 3: Ethanoic acid Ethanoate + CoA and then onto Acetyl CoA.
The hydrogens released are combined with NAD to form NADH, used in oxidative
Liver cells contain a large group of enzymes called the cytochrome P450 enzymes. These
are responsible for the breakdown of some toxic molecules, such as cocaine and other
drugs (recreational and medicinal). The P450s are most concentrated in the endoplasmic
reticulum of liver cells. As a result of variation these enzymes can be more effective in
some people than in others (Caucasian population compared to Afro-Caribbean
If the liver has to detoxify too much alcohol it has insufficient NAD to deal with the fatty
acids. These fatty acids are converted back to lipids and are stored in the hepatocytes,
causing the liver to become enlarged. Causes a condition known as fatty liver which can
lead to alcohol-related hepatitis or cirrhosis
Excess Amino Acids and Alcohol Excretion
Amino acids contain a lot of energy, and so an excess in secretion of these is a waste of
valuable energy. Instead the amine group is removed and converted to urea, this enables
the energy present to still be used in the form of a keto acid. Also some amino acids can
be converted into other amino acids.
Too much alcohol should not be excreted because it can release lots of energy too.