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Chem Biol Interact. 2012 Oct 25;200(1):11-20. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2012.08.023. Epub 2012 Sep 13.

Pregnane X receptor mediated-transcription regulation of CYP3A by glycyrrhizin: a possible mechanism for its hepatoprotective property against lithocholic acid-induced injury.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Beijing Institute of Radiation Medicine, Beijing 100850, China.


Licorice (LE) has been commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for over 4000 years to reconcile various drugs and for hepatic disorders. Glycyrrhizin is the main bioactive component isolated from LE herbs. In the present study we examined the effects of glycyrrhizin on pregnane X receptor (PXR)-mediated CYP3A expression and its hepatoprotective activity. Treatment of HepG2 cells with glycyrrhizin resulted in marked increase in both CYP3A4 mRNA and protein levels. The transcriptional activation of the CYP3A4 gene through glycyrrhizin is PXR-dependent, as shown in transient transfection experiments. Glycyrrhizin activates the DNA-binding capacity of the PXR for the CYP3A4 element responding to xenobiotic signals, as measured by the electrophoretic-mobility shift assay (EMSA). These results indicate that the induction of the hepatic CYP3A4 by glycyrrhizin is mediated through the activation of PXR. The next aim of the current study was to determine whether the activation of PXR and induction of CYP3A by glycyrrhizin prevents hepatotoxicity during cholestasis as a mechanism of hepatoprotection. Mice were pretreated with glycyrrhizin prior to induction of intrahepatic cholestasis using lithocholic acid (LCA). Pre-treatment with glycyrrhizin, as well as the PXR activator pregnenolone 16α-carbontrile (PCN), prevents the increase in plasma ALT and AST activity, multifocal necrosis and prevents an increase in a level of serum LCA level in mice, as compared with the results in the mice treated with LCA alone. Activation of the PXR by glycyrrhizin results in induction of CYP3A11 (CYP3A4 for human) expression and inhibition of CYP7A1 through an increase in small heterodimer partner (SHP) expression. Glycyrrhizin regulates the expression of the gene mentioned above to prevent toxic accumulation of bile acids in the liver and it also protects mouse livers from the harmful effects of LCA. In conclusion, PXR-mediated effects on CYP3A and CYP7A may contribute to the hepatoprotective property of glycyrrhizin against LCA-induced liver injury.

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