Bile acids, synthesized by hepatocytes from cholesterol, are specific and quantitatively important
organic components of bile, where they are the main driving force of the osmotic process that generates bile flow
toward the canaliculus. The bile acid pool comprises a variety of species of amphipathic acidic steroids. They are
not mere detergent molecules that play a key role in fat digestion and the intestinal absorption of hydrophobic
compounds present in the intestinal lumen after meals, including liposoluble vitamins. They are now known to be
involved in the regulation of multiple functions in liver cells, mainly hepatocytes and cholangiocytes, and also in extrahepatic tissues.
The identification of nuclear receptors, such as farnesoid X receptor (FXR or NR1H4), and plasma membrane receptors, such as the G
protein-coupled bile acid receptor (TGR5, GPBAR1 or MBAR), which are able to trigger specific and complex responses upon activation
(with dissimilar sensitivities) by different bile acid molecular species and synthetic agonists, has opened a new and promising field of
research whose implications extend to physiology, pathology and pharmacology. In addition, pharmacological development has taken
advantage of advances in the understanding of the chemistry and biology of bile acids and the biological systems that interact with them,
which in addition to the receptors include several families of transporters and export pumps, to generate novel bile acid derivatives aimed
at treating different liver diseases, such as cholestasis, biliary diseases, metabolic disorders and cancer. This review is an update of the
role of bile acids in health and disease.
Keywords: Biliary tree, cholangiocyte, cholesterol, digestion, hepatocyte, intestine, lipid, liver, metabolism, secretion, steroid, transport.
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