Abstract:Background/Aims: Because little has been known about the morphological and functional consequences of liver transplantation on hepatic autonomic nerves, we examined the time-course of extrinsic hepatic innervation at the level of the porta hepatis of liver allografts. Methods: Orthotopic liver transplantation was performed using male Lewis rats. Crosscut tissue specimens were obtained postoperatively for up to 6 months from the porta hepatis of transplanted livers, and processed for immunohistochemical staining for protein gene product 9.5 (PGP 9.5) and growth-associated protein 43 (GAP-43), and for transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Results: Extrinsic nerve fibers at the porta hepatis stained positively for PGP 9.5 throughout the entire study period. In contrast, the immunoreactivity of GAP-43 was negative at postoperative day (POD) 1 and 2. GAP-43-positive nerves were first observed to appear in the porta hepatis at POD 3. The immunoreactivity of GAP-43 remained positive thereafter until 3 months post-OLT, and became negative in all the specimens at 4 months post-OLT. Transmission electron microscopy demonstrated a small number of regenerating axons existing among many degenerating axons at POD 3. At 3 months post-OLT, most regenerating axons had been fully ensheathed by the cytoplasm of Schwann cells, although their density remained at a lower level compared with normal. Conclusion: The results of this study suggest that liver allografts become extrinsically reinnervated, with the regenerating axons reaching the hepatic hilus 3 days after transplantation. The process of extrinsic hepatic reinnervation is considered to almost terminate 4 months after transplantation in rats.