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Gastroenterology. 2006 Aug;131(2):624-9.

Combined mutations of canalicular transporter proteins cause severe intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy.

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  • 1Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Infectiology, Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.


Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP) is a cholestatic disorder that usually develops in the third trimester of pregnancy and persists until delivery. The cause of ICP remains elusive, but there is evidence that mutations in the canalicular ABC transporter phospholipid flippase (MDR3) and in the bile salt export pump (BSEP) can predispose for the development of ICP. MDR3 and BSEP were investigated by gene sequencing and immunofluorescence microscopy in a patient with severe ICP of early onset. ICP was diagnosed in a patient in the first trimester of pregnancy with severe pruritus, elevated levels of bile salts, and 48-fold elevation of transaminase levels. A liver biopsy specimen showed diminished canalicular expression of the bile salt export pump BSEP, while the expression and localization of the phospholipid flippase MDR3 was normal. Gene sequencing revealed a homozygous MDR3 gene mutation (S320F). The patient was also homozygous for the common BSEP polymorphism V444A. Treatment with ursodeoxycholate normalized transaminase levels but could not prevent further elevation of bile salt levels and preterm delivery. The combined homozygous alterations of the canalicular transporters may explain the early onset and severity of ICP in this patient. The common BSEP polymorphism V444A accounts for the reduced canalicular BSEP expression. Reduced bile salt secretion through BSEP may explain the persistence of elevated bile salt levels and incomplete efficacy of ursodeoxycholate treatment.

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