Bile is synthesized in the liver and is essential for the emulsification of dietary lipids and lipid-soluble vitamins. It is a complex mixture of amphiphilic bile acids (BAs; which act as detergent molecules), the membrane phospholipid phosphatidylcholine (PC), cholesterol and a variety of endogenous metabolites and waste products. Over the last 20 years, the combined effort of clinicians, geneticists, physiologists and biochemists has shown that each of these bile components is transported across the canalicular membrane of the hepatocyte by its own specific ATP-binding cassette (ABC) transporter. The bile salt export pump (BSEP) ABCB11 transports the BAs and drives bile flow from the liver, but it is now clear that two lipid transporters, ABCB4 (which flops PC into the bile) and the P-type ATPase ATP8B1/CDC50 (which flips a different phospholipid in the opposite direction) play equally critical roles that protect the biliary tree from the detergent activity of the bile acids. Understanding the interdependency of these lipid floppases and flippases has allowed the development of an assay to measure ABCB4 function. ABCB4 harbours numerous mis-sense mutations which probably reflects the spectrum of liver disease rooted in ABCB4 aetiology. Characterization of the effect of these mutations at the protein level opens the possibility for the development of personalized prognosis and treatment.

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