Ursodesoxycholic acid, widely used for the treatment of cholestatic liver disease, causes choleretic, anti-apoptotic and immunomodulatory effects. Here the effects on choleresis of its taurine conjugate tauroursodesoxycholate (TUDC), which is present in the enterohepatic circulation, were correlated with the activation of important elements of intracellular signal transduction in cultured rat hepatocytes and perfused rat liver. TUDC induced a time- and concentration-dependent activation of the small GTP-binding protein Ras and of phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3-kinase) in cultured hepatocytes. Ras activation was dependent on PI3-kinase activity, without the involvement of protein kinase C- and genistein-sensitive tyrosine kinases. Ras activation by TUDC was followed by an activation of the mitogen-activated protein kinases extracellular-signal-regulated kinase-1 (Erk-1) and Erk-2. In perfused rat liver, PI3-kinase inhibitors largely abolished the stimulatory effect of TUDC on taurocholate excretion, suggesting an important role for a PI3-kinase/Ras/Erk pathway in the choleretic effect of TUDC.

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