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Gastroenterology. 1999 Dec;117(6):1370-9.

Hepatocanalicular bile salt export pump deficiency in patients with progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis.

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Department of Gastroenterology, University Hospital Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands.



Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC), an inherited liver disease of childhood, is characterized by cholestasis and either normal or increased serum gamma-glutamyltransferase activity. Patients with normal gamma-glutamyltransferase activity have mutations of the FIC1 locus on chromosome 18q21 or mutations of the BSEP gene on chromosome 2q24. Also, patients with bile acid synthesis defects have low gamma-glutamyltransferase activity. We investigated expression of the bile salt export pump (BSEP) in liver samples from patients with a PFIC phenotype and correlated this with BSEP gene mutations.


BSEP and multidrug resistance protein 2 (MRP2) expressions were studied by immunohistochemistry in liver specimens of 28 patients and BSEP gene mutation analysis in 19 patients. Bile salt kinetics were studied in 1 patient.


Sixteen of 28 liver samples showed no canalicular BSEP staining. Staining for MRP2 showed a normal canalicular pattern in all but 1 of these samples. Ten of 19 patients showed BSEP gene mutations; BSEP protein expression was lacking in all 10 patients. No mutations were found in 9 of 19 patients, and in all except 1, BSEP protein expression was normal. Bile salt concentration in bile of BSEP-negative/MRP2-positive PFIC patients was 0.2 +/- 0.2 mmol/L (n = 9; <1% of normal) and in BSEP-positive PFIC patients 18.1 +/- 9.9 mmol/L (n = 3; 40% of normal). The kinetic study confirmed the dramatic decrease of bile salt secretion in BSEP-negative patients.


The findings show a close correlation between BSEP gene mutations and canalicular BSEP expression. Biliary secretion of bile salts is greatly reduced in BSEP-negative patients.

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