Nuclear translocation of UDCA by the glucocorticoid receptor is required to reduce TGF-β1–induced apoptosis in rat hepatocytes


  • Potential conflict of interest: Nothing to report.


Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) inhibits classical mitochondrial pathways of apoptosis by either directly stabilizing mitochondrial membranes or modulating specific upstream targets. Furthermore, UDCA regulates apoptosis-related genes from transforming growth factor β1 (TGF-β1)–induced hepatocyte apoptosis by a nuclear steroid receptor (NSR)–dependent mechanism. In this study, we further investigated the potential role of the glucocorticoid receptor (GR) in the antiapoptotic function of UDCA. Our results with short interference RNA (siRNA) technology confirmed that UDCA significantly reduces TGF-β1–induced apoptosis of primary rat hepatocytes through a GR-dependent effect. Immunoprecipitation assays and confocal microscopy showed that UDCA enhanced free GR levels with subsequent GR nuclear translocation. Interestingly, when a carboxy-terminus deleted form of GR was used, UDCA no longer increased free GR and/or GR translocation, nor did it protect against TGF-β1–induced apoptosis. In co-transfection experiments with GR response element reporter and overexpression constructs, UDCA did not enhance the transactivation of GR with TGF-β1. Finally, using a flourescently labeled UDCA molecule, the bile acid appeared diffuse in the cytosol but was aggregated in the nucleus of hepatocytes. Both siRNA assays and transfection experiments with either wild-type or mutant forms of GR showed that nuclear trafficking occurs through a GR-dependent mechanism. In conclusion, these results further clarify the antiapoptotic mechanism(s) of UDCA and suggest that GR is crucial for the nuclear translocation of this bile acid for reducing apoptosis. (HEPATOLOGY 2005;42:925–934.)