Genetic cholestasis, causes and consequences for hepatobiliary transport


Prof. Peter L. M. Jansen, MD, PhD,
Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology,
Department of Medicine, University Hospital,
Hanzeplein 1, 9717 GZ Groningen,
The Netherlands.


Abstract: Bile salts take part in an efficient enterohepatic circulation in which most of the secreted bile salts are reclaimed by absorption in the terminal ileum. In the liver, the sodium-dependent taurocholate transporter at the basolateral (sinusoidal) membrane and the bile salt export pump at the canalicular membrane mediate hepatic uptake and hepatobiliary secretion of bile salts. Canalicular secretion is the driving force for the enterohepatic cycling of bile salts and most genetic diseases are caused by defects of canalicular secretion. Impairment of bile flow leads to adaptive changes in the expression of transporter proteins and enzymes of the cytochrome P-450 system involved in the metabolism of cholesterol and bile acids. Bile salts act as ligands for transcription factors. As such, they stimulate or inhibit the transcription of genes encoding transporters and enzymes involved in their own metabolism. Together these changes appear to serve mainly a hepatoprotective function. Progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC) results from mutations in various genes encoding hepatobiliary transport proteins. Mutations in the FIC1 gene cause relapsing or permanent cholestasis. The relapsing type of cholestasis is called benign recurrent intrahepatic cholestasis, the permanent type of cholestasis PFIC type 1. PFIC type 2 results from mutations in the bile salt export pump (BSEP) gene. This is associated with permanent cholestasis since birth. Serum gamma-glutamyltransferase (gamma-GT) activity is low to normal in PFIC types 1 and 2. Bile diversion procedures, causing a decreased bile salt pool, have a beneficial effect in a number of patients with these diseases. However, liver transplantation is often necessary. PFIC type 3 is caused by mutations in the MDR3 gene. MDR3 is a phospholipid translocator in the canalicular membrane. Because of the inability to secrete phospholipids, patients with PFIC type 3 produce bile acid-rich toxic bile that damages the intrahepatic bile ducts. Serum gamma-GT activity is elevated in these patients. Ursodeoxycholic acid therapy is useful for patients with a partial defect. Liver transplantation is a more definitive therapy for these patients.