The biliary secretion of bile acids is critical for multiple liver functions including digesting fatty nutrients and driving bile flow. When this process is impaired, accumulating bile acids cause inflammatory liver injury. Multiple ABC transporters in the liver are key players to safeguard the hepatocyte and avoid toxicity due to bile acid over-accumulation. BSEP provides for efficient secretion of bile acids across the canalicular membrane against a steep concentration gradient. MDR3/Mdr2 and ABCG5/G8 secrete phosphatidylcholine and cholesterol, respectively, in coordination with BSEPmediated bile acid secretion to mask the detergent/toxic effects of bile acids in the bile ductular space. Several lines of evidence indicate that when these critical steps are compromised, bile acid toxicity in vivo leads to inflammatory liver injury and liver cancer. In bsep-/- mice, liver cancer is rare. These mice display greatly increased expression of alternative bile acid transporters, such as Mdr1a/1b, Mrp3 and Mrp4. We believe these alternative transport systems provide an additional safeguard to avoid bile acid overload in liver. Such backup systems appear to be under-utilized in humans, as defects in BSEP and MDR3 lead to severe, often fatal childhood diseases. It is possible, therefore, that targeting ABC transporters and modulating the toxicity of the bile acid pool could be vital interventions to alleviate chronic inflammation and reduce the incidence of liver cancer in high-risk populations. The combination of an alternative ABC transporter with a novel substrate may prove an effective chemo-preventive or therapeutic strategy.
Keywords: Bile acid, bile salt export pump (BSEP), bile formation, cancer, inflammation, liver, multi-drug resistance protein 1 (MDR1), Chronic inflammatory stress, inflammatory liver injury, toxicity, detergent/toxic effects, liver cancer, safeguard, bile acid overload, ABC transporters
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