• fetus;
  • main portal vein;
  • portal veins;
  • umbilical vein



To describe the normal anatomy of the fetal umbilical–portal venous system (UPVS) and to assess possible anatomical variants of the main portal vein (MPV) insertion into the portal sinus (PS).


This was a prospective cross-sectional study of low-risk patients between 14 and 36 weeks of gestation. Two- (2D) and three-dimensional (3D) ultrasound techniques combined with color and high-definition flow Doppler were used to evaluate the fetal UPVS. The standard transverse plane of the fetal upper abdomen, used for measuring the abdominal circumference, was taken in all cases as the point of reference. A longitudinal section was taken to identify the normal course of the umbilical vein and ductus venosus (DV). We performed offline analysis of all gray-scale and color Doppler 2D and 3D volume datasets.


Two hundred and eight fetuses were included in the study. The umbilical vein was observed to course in a cephalad direction from its entry point into the fetal abdomen, joining the L-shaped PS, a confluence of vessels that is the main segment of the left portal vein (LPV). Three branches emerge from the LPV: two to the left, the inferior and superior branches, and one to the right, the medial branch. The main LPV then courses abruptly to the right. Following the emergence of the DV, the communication of the MPV with the LPV marks the point at which the vessel becomes the right portal vein (RPV), giving rise to its anterior and posterior branches. We were able to define three main variants of connection between the MPV and the PS. In 140 (67.3%) fetuses the MPV was connected to the LPV in an end-to-side T-shaped anastomosis, in 26 (12.5%) fetuses the MPV connected with a side-to-side X-shaped anastomosis and in 30 (14.4%) fetuses the two vessels ran in parallel with a short communicating segment, in an H-shaped anastomosis. In the remaining 12 (5.7%) cases classification into one of these three groups was not possible due to intermediate morphology.


Knowing the normal anatomy of the UPVS and being aware of the possible variants of the connection between the MPV and the PS is a fundamental requirement for accurate prenatal diagnosis of the anomalies of the fetal UPVS. Copyright © 2009 ISUOG. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.