Intracellular pathways mediating estrogen-induced cholangiocyte proliferation in the rat



The aim of this study was to explore the intracellular signaling pathways involved in the stimulatory effects of estrogens on cholangiocyte proliferation. We investigated the tyrosine kinase–receptor pathway by evaluating the protein expression of total and phosphorylated mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) isoform p44/p42 (e.g., extracellular signal-regulated kinase [ERK]1/2), the steroid-receptor coactivator Src and Shc (Src-homology/collagen protein). The study was performed in 3-week-old bile duct–ligated (BDL) rats, BDL rats treated with the antiestrogens, tamoxifen or Ici 182,780, and normal control rats. Proliferation was also evaluated in normal purified cholangiocytes treated with 17β estradiol in the presence or absence of tamoxifen, Ici 182,780, ERK, or Src inhibitors. After bile duct ligation, cholangiocyte proliferation was associated with a marked immunohistochemical nuclear positivity for phosphorylated (p)-ERK1/2, which was inhibited by in vivo treatment with tamoxifen or Ici 182,780. Protein expression of total and p-ERK1/2, and Shc in cholangiocytes isolated from BDL rats was markedly increased compared with controls and was inhibited by in vivo treatment with antiestrogens. In vitro, 17β estradiol–induced proliferation of isolated normal cholangiocyte was associated with increased (P < .01) protein expression of p-ERK1/2, Src, and Shc. Specific inhibitors of ER (Ici 182,780), ERK (U0125), and Src (PP2) inhibited in vitro 17β estradiol–induced cholangiocyte proliferation. In conclusion, this study showed that estrogens induced cholangiocyte proliferation by activating the Src/Shc/ERK pathway. This might suggest that pharmacologic modulation of ER, ERK, and/or Src could be proposed for the treatment of human pathology characterized by dysregulation of cholangiocyte proliferation.