The fate of the vitelline and umbilical veins during the development of the human liver

Jill P. J. M. Hikspoors, Mathijs M. J. P. Peeters, Hayelom K. Mekonen, Nutmethee Kruepunga, Greet M. C. Mommen, Pieter Cornillie, S. Eleonore Kohler, Wouter H. Lamers*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Differentiation of endodermal cells into hepatoblasts is well studied, but the remodeling of the vitelline and umbilical veins during liver development is less well understood. We compared human embryos between 3 and 10 weeks of development with pig and mouse embryos at comparable stages, and used A(MIRA) 3D reconstruction and CINEMA 4D remodeling software for visualization. The vitelline and umbilical veins enter the systemic venous sinus on each side via a common entrance, the hepatocardiac channel. During expansion into the transverse septum at Carnegie Stage (CS) 12 the liver bud develops as two dorsolateral lobes or 'wings' and a single ventromedial lobe, with the liver hilum at the intersection of these lobes. The dorsolateral lobes each engulf a vitelline vein during CS13 and the ventromedial lobe both umbilical veins during CS14, but both venous systems remain temporarily identifiable inside the liver. The dominance of the left-sided umbilical vein and the rightward repositioning of the sinuatrial junction cause de novo development of left-to-right shunts between the left umbilical vein in the liver hilum and the right hepatocardiac channel (venous duct) and the right vitelline vein (portal sinus), respectively. Once these shunts have formed, portal branches develop from the intrahepatic portions of the portal vein on the right side and the umbilical vein on the left side. The gall bladder is a reliable marker for this hepatic vascular midline. We found no evidence for large-scale fragmentation of embryonic veins as claimed by the 'vestigial' theory. Instead and in agreement with the 'lineage' theory, the vitelline and umbilical veins remained temporally identifiable inside the liver after being engulfed by hepatoblasts. In agreement with the 'hemodynamic' theory, the left-right shunts develop de novo.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)718-735
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Anatomy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


  • liver bud
  • liver primordium
  • portal vein
  • sinusoids
  • umbilical vein
  • venous duct
  • venous sinus
  • vitelline vein

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