The human liver is a dark red-brown organ with a soft, spongy texture. It is located at the top of the abdomen, on the right side of the body just below the diaphragm—a sheet of muscle tissue that separates the lungs from the abdominal organs. The lower part of the rib cage covers the liver, protecting it from injury. In a healthy adult, the liver weighs about 1.5 kg (3 lb) and is about 15 cm (6 in) thick.
Despite its many complex functions, the liver is relatively simple in structure. It consists of two main lobes, left and right, which overlap slightly. The right lobe has two smaller lobes attached to it, called the quadrate and caudate lobes.
Each lobe contains many thousands of units called lobules that are the building blocks of the liver. Lobules are six-sided structures each about 1 mm (0.04 in) across. A tiny vein runs through the center of each lobule and eventually drains into the hepatic vein, which carries blood out of the liver. Hundreds of cubed-shaped liver cells, called hepatocytes, are arranged around the lobule's central vein in a radiating pattern. On the outside surface of each lobule are small veins, ducts, and arteries that carry fluids to and from the lobules. As the liver does its work, nutrients are collected, wastes are removed, and chemical substances are released into the body through these vessels.
Unlike most organs, which have a single blood supply, the liver receives blood from two sources. The hepatic artery delivers oxygen-rich blood from the heart, supplying about 25 percent of the liver's blood. The liver also receives oxygen-depleted blood from the hepatic portal vein. This vein, which is the source of 75 percent of the liver's blood supply, carries blood to the liver that has traveled from the digestive tract, where it collects nutrients as food is digested. These nutrients are delivered to the liver for further processing or storage.
Tiny blood vessel branches of the hepatic artery and the hepatic portal vein are found around each liver lobule. This network of blood vessels is responsible for the vast amount of blood that flows through the liver—about 1.4 liters (about 3 pt) every minute. Blood exits the liver through the hepatic vein, which eventually drains into the heart.