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Abstract

The mechanisms by which bile acids induce apoptosis in hepatocytes and the signaling pathways involved in the control of cell death are not understood fully. Here, we examined the impact of mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and phosphatidyl inositol 3-kinase (PI3K) signaling on the survival of primary hepatocytes exposed to bile acids. Treatment of hepatocytes with deoxycholic acid (DCA), chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA) or ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) caused sustained MAPK activation that was dependent on activation of the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR). Activation of MAPK was partially blocked by inhibitors of PI3K. Inhibition of DCA-, CDCA-, and UDCA-stimulated MAPK activation resulted in ∼20%, ∼35%, and ∼55% apoptosis, respectively. The potentiation of DCA- and CDCA-induced apoptosis by MEK1/2 inhibitors correlated with cleavage of procaspase 3, which was blocked by inhibitors of caspase 8 (ile-Glu-Thr-Asp-p-nitroanilide [IETD]) and caspase 3 (DEVD). In contrast, the potentiation of UDCA-induced apoptosis weakly correlated with procaspase 3 cleavage, yet this effect was also blocked by IETD and DEVD. Incubation of hepatocytes with the serine protease inhibitor AEBSF reduced the death response of cells treated with UDCA and MEK1/2 inhibitor to that observed for DCA and MEK1/2 inhibitor. The apoptotic response was FAS receptor– and neutral sphingomyelinase–dependent and independent of FAS ligand expression, and neither chelation of intracellular and extracellular Ca2+ nor down-regulation of PKC expression altered the apoptotic effects of bile acids. In conclusion, bile acid apoptosis is dependent on the production of ceramide and is counteracted by activation of the MAPK and PI3K pathways.