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J Biol Chem. 2002 Aug 30;277(35):31441-7. Epub 2002 Jun 6.

Lithocholic acid decreases expression of bile salt export pump through farnesoid X receptor antagonist activity.

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Department of Atherosclerosis and Endocrinology, Merck Research Laboratories, Rahway, New Jersey 07065, USA.


Bile salt export pump (BSEP) is a major bile acid transporter in the liver. Mutations in BSEP result in progressive intrahepatic cholestasis, a severe liver disease that impairs bile flow and causes irreversible liver damage. BSEP is a target for inhibition and down-regulation by drugs and abnormal bile salt metabolites, and such inhibition and down-regulation may result in bile acid retention and intrahepatic cholestasis. In this study, we quantitatively analyzed the regulation of BSEP expression by FXR ligands in primary human hepatocytes and HepG2 cells. We demonstrate that BSEP expression is dramatically regulated by ligands of the nuclear receptor farnesoid X receptor (FXR). Both the endogenous FXR agonist chenodeoxycholate (CDCA) and synthetic FXR ligand GW4064 effectively increased BSEP mRNA in both cell types. This up-regulation was readily detectable at as early as 3 h, and the ligand potency for BSEP regulation correlates with the intrinsic activity on FXR. These results suggest BSEP as a direct target of FXR and support the recent report that the BSEP promoter is transactivated by FXR. In contrast to CDCA and GW4064, lithocholate (LCA), a hydrophobic bile acid and a potent inducer of cholestasis, strongly decreased BSEP expression. Previous studies did not identify LCA as an FXR antagonist ligand in cells, but we show here that LCA is an FXR antagonist with partial agonist activity in cells. In an in vitro co-activator association assay, LCA decreased CDCA- and GW4064-induced FXR activation with an IC(50) of 1 microm. In HepG2 cells, LCA also effectively antagonized GW4064-enhanced FXR transactivation. These data suggest that the toxic and cholestatic effect of LCA in animals may result from its down-regulation of BSEP through FXR. Taken together, these observations indicate that FXR plays an important role in BSEP gene expression and that FXR ligands may be potential therapeutic drugs for intrahepatic cholestasis.

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