Biliary tract

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Biliary tract
Diagram showing the position of the perihilar bile ducts CRUK 357.svg
Ducts of the biliary tract
Anatomical terminology

The biliary tract, (biliary tree or biliary system) refers to the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, and how they work together to make, store and secrete bile. Bile consists of water, electrolytes, bile acids, cholesterol, phospholipids and conjugated bilirubin. Some components are synthesised by hepatocytes (liver cells), the rest are extracted from the blood by the liver.

Bile is secreted by the liver into small ducts that join to form the common hepatic duct. Between meals, secreted bile is stored in the gall bladder, where 80%-90% of the water and electrolytes can be absorbed, leaving the bile acids and cholesterol. During a meal, the smooth muscles in the gallbladder wall contract, leading to the bile being secreted into the duodenum.


1. Bile ducts: 2. Intrahepatic bile ducts, 3. Left and right hepatic ducts, 4. Common hepatic duct, 5. Cystic duct, 6. Common bile duct, 7. Ampulla of Vater, 8. Major duodenal papilla
9. Gallbladder, 10–11. Right and left lobes of liver. 12. Spleen.
13. Esophagus. 14. Stomach. Small intestine: 15. Duodenum, 16. Jejunum
17. Pancreas: 18: Accessory pancreatic duct, 19: Pancreatic duct.
20–21: Right and left kidneys (silhouette).
The anterior border of the liver is lifted upwards (brown arrow). Gallbladder with Longitudinal section, pancreas and duodenum with frontal one. Intrahepatic ducts and stomach in transparency.

The biliary tract is the common anatomical term for the path by which bile is secreted by the liver then transported to the first part of the small intestine, also known as the duodenum. A structure common to most members of the mammal family, it is often referred to as a tree because it begins with many small branches which end in the common bile duct, sometimes referred to as the trunk of the biliary tree. The duct, the branches of the hepatic artery, and the portal vein form the central axis of the portal triad. Bile flows in the direction opposite to that of the blood present in the other two channels.

The system is usually referred to as the biliary tract or system, [1]and can include the use of the term hepatobiliary when used to refer just to the liver and bile ducts.[2]The name biliary tract is used to refer to all of the ducts, structures and organs involved in the production, storage and secretion of bile.[3]

The path is as follows:


To see how this relates to the metabolism of bile, read bilirubin metabolism.

Clinical significance[edit]

Pressure inside in the biliary tree can give rise to gallstones and lead to cirrhosis of the liver.

The biliary tract can also serve as a reservoir for intestinal tract infections. Since the biliary tract is an internal organ, it has no somatic nerve supply, and biliary colic due to infection and inflammation of the biliary tract is not a somatic pain. Rather, pain may be caused by luminal distension, which causes stretching of the wall. This is the same mechanism that causes pain in bowel obstructions.[citation needed]

An obstruction of the biliary tract can result in jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. [4]


  1. ^ Biliary tract at the US National Library of Medicine Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)
  2. ^ Dorland's (2012). Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (32nd ed.). Elsevier. p. 846. ISBN 978-1-4160-6257-8. 
  3. ^ Dorland's (2012). Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary (32nd ed.). Elsevier. p. 1946. ISBN 978-1-4160-6257-8. 
  4. ^ "Definition: biliary tract from Online Medical Dictionary".