The role of membrane cholesterol in determining bile acid cytotoxicity and cytoprotection of ursodeoxycholic acid

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In cholestatic liver diseases, the ability of hydrophobic bile acids to damage membranes of hepatocytes/ductal cells contributes to their cytotoxicity. However, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDC), a hydrophilic bile acid, is used to treat cholestasis because it protects membranes. It has been well established that bile acids associate with and solubilize free cholesterol (CHOL) contained within the lumen of the gallbladder because of their structural similarities. However, there is a lack of understanding of how membrane CHOL, which is a well-established membrane stabilizing agent, is involved in cytotoxicity of hydrophobic bile acids and the cytoprotective effect of UDC. We utilized phospholipid liposomes to examine the ability of membrane CHOL to influence toxicity of individual bile acids, such as UDC and the highly toxic sodium deoxycholate (SDC), as well as the cytoprotective mechanism of UDC against SDC-induced cytotoxicity by measuring membrane permeation and intramembrane dipole potential. The kinetics of bile acid solubilization of phosphatidylcholine liposomes containing various levels of CHOL was also characterized. It was found that the presence of CHOL in membranes significantly reduced the ability of bile acids to damage synthetic membranes. UDC effectively prevented damaging effects of SDC on synthetic membranes only in the presence of membrane CHOL, while UDC enhances the damaging effects of SDC in the absence of CHOL. This further demonstrates that the cytoprotective effects of UDC depend upon the level of CHOL in the lipid membrane. Thus, changes in cell membrane composition, such as CHOL content, potentially influence the efficacy of UDC as the primary drug used to treat cholestasis.




Zhou, Y., Doyen, R., & Lichtenberger, L. M. (2009). The role of membrane cholesterol in determining bile acid cytotoxicity and cytoprotection of ursodeoxycholic acid. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta - Biomembranes, 1788(2), 507–513.

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