Bile acids have been demonstrated, through the use of animal models and clinical association studies, to play a role in neoplastic development in Barrett's metaplasia. How specific bile acids promote neoplasia is as yet unknown, as are the exact identities of the important bile acid subtypes. The combination of bile subtype with appropriate pH is critical, as pH alters bile acid activity enormously. Hence glycine-conjugated bile acids are involved in neoplastic development at acidic pH (pH ~4), and unconjugated bile acids are involved in neoplastic development at more neutral pH (~6). Bile acids (at the appropriate pH) are potent DNA-damaging agents, due to the induction of ROS (reactive oxygen species), which are mainly induced by bile-induced damage to mitochondrial membranes, allowing leakage of ROS into the cytosol. These ROS also induce pro-survival signalling pathways [e.g. via PKC (protein kinase C)-dependent NF-κB (nuclear factor κB) activity]. Interestingly, NOS (nitric oxide synthase), through induction of NO may exacerbate this NF-κB activity and form a positive-feedback loop to amplify the activation of NF-κB by deoxycholic acid in particular. This combination of induced DNA damage and cell survival by bile acids is of major importance in neoplasia. Antioxidants and the tertiary bile acid UDCA (ursodeoxycholic acid) can block bile-induced DNA damage and bile-induced NF-κB activity, and should be considered in chemopreventative strategies.

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