Insulin suppresses bile acid synthesis in cultured rat hepatocytes by down-regulation of cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and sterol 27-hydroxylase gene transcription



Evidence from in vivo studies indicates that the bile acid pool and bile acid excretion are increased in humans with diabetes mellitus and in experimental diabetic animals, and that both parameters return to normal levels after administration of insulin. To investigate the biochemical background of these changes, the effects of insulin on bile acid synthesis and cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and sterol 27-hydroxylase, two key enzymes in routing of cholesterol toward bile acids, were studied in cultured rat hepatocytes. Mass production of bile acids was dose dependently diminished, showing significant reduction (−33% to −53%) at physiological concentrations of the hormone (1.4 to 14 nmol/L) and a maximal decrease at 140 nmol/L (−65%). The decrease of bile acid synthesis correlated well with the suppression of cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase, examined in more detail, was dose dependently diminished on incubation of hepatocytes with various concentrations of insulin, reaching maximal reduction at 14 nmol/L of insulin. Maximal decrease of the enzyme activity was seen after 8 hours of incubation (−70%). Insulin strongly reduced the rise in cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase activity induced by incubation with dexamethasone. Sterol 27-hydroxylase activity was inhibited up to −58% after 24 hours of incubation with 140 nmol/L insulin. To study the mechanism of suppression of cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and sterol 27-hydroxylase activity, the effects of insulin on their respective levels of messenger RNA (mRNA) and gene transcription were assessed. The decrease in enzyme activities could be explained by a concomitant reduction in the cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase (−76%) and sterol 27-hydroxylase (−62%) mRNA level. Transcriptional activity, as assessed by nuclear runoff assays, was decreased to the same extent, i.e., −60% for cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and −75% for sterol 27-hydroxylase. Transient expression experiments using a construct containing the proximal 348 basepairs of the cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase promoter fused to the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) gene (−348Rcat) showed a significant reduction of transcriptional activity (−64%) with insulin, indicating that a sequence important for an insulin-induced transcriptional response is located within the first 348 basepairs, preceding the transcription start of the cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase promoter. We conclude that physiological concentrations of insulin suppress bile acid synthesis by downregulation of cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase and sterol 27-hydroxylase gene transcription, and that this effect is mediated through a direct action of the hormone on the hepatocyte. These results may provide an explanation for the increased bile acid pool and excretion as found in humans with untreated diabetes mellitus and in experimental animals with insulin deficiency. (HEPATOLOGY 1995;21:501–510.)