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J Exp Biol. 2001 May;204(Pt 10):1673-86.

Transport of bile acids in hepatic and non-hepatic tissues.

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Division of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, Department of Medicine, University Hospital, Zurich CH-8091, Switzerland.


Bile acids are steroidal amphipathic molecules derived from the catabolism of cholesterol. They modulate bile flow and lipid secretion, are essential for the absorption of dietary fats and vitamins, and have been implicated in the regulation of all the key enzymes involved in cholesterol homeostasis. Bile acids recirculate through the liver, bile ducts, small intestine and portal vein to form an enterohepatic circuit. They exist as anions at physiological pH and, consequently, require a carrier for transport across the membranes of the enterohepatic tissues. Individual bile acid carriers have now been cloned from several species. Na+-dependent transporters that mediate uptake into hepatocytes and reabsorption from the intestine and biliary epithelium and an ATP-dependent transporter that pumps bile acids into bile comprise the classes of transporter that are specific for bile acids. In addition, at least four human and five rat genes that code for Na+-independent organic anion carriers with broad multi-substrate specificities that include bile acids have been discovered. Studies concerning the regulation of these carriers have permitted identification of molecular signals that dictate eventual changes in the uptake or excretion of bile acids, which in turn have profound physiological implications. This overview summarizes and compares all known bile acid transporters and highlights findings that have identified diseases linked to molecular defects in these carriers. Recent advances that have fostered a more complete appreciation for the elaborate disposition of bile acids in humans are emphasized.

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