Bile acids reach the nuclei of hepatocytes, where they may play an important role in controlling gene expression by binding to nuclear receptors. In previous studies, changes in the amounts of the different molecular species of bile acids in the hepatocyte nucleus during rat liver regeneration have been reported. The aim of the present work was to investigate whether this also occurs during rat hepatocarcinogenesis. Liver cell nuclei were isolated after homogenization of livers from healthy adult rats (controls) and from rats at different time points during chemically induced hepatocarcinogenesis, corresponding to the stages of foci (12 weeks), hepatoma (20 weeks) and carcinoma (32 weeks). Bile samples from the cannulated common bile duct were collected for 1h from different sets of animals undergoing hepatocarcinogenesis. Bile acids in bile, liver homogenates and isolated nuclei were measured by GC-MS. Because the yield of nuclei isolated changed during the course of hepatocarcinogenesis (control, 20.1%; 12 weeks, 23.6%; 20 weeks, 7.8%; 32 weeks, 5.1%), amounts of bile acids in nuclei were corrected for the amount of DNA in each preparation. During hepatocarcinogenesis, bile acid concentrations in liver homogenates were reduced to approximately half the values obtained in control livers, while the levels of bile acids in both isolated nuclei and bile were not decreased. Hepatocarcinogenesis induced changes in the composition of bile acid pools. These were manifest as an increase in the proportion of cholic acid and a decrease in that of ursodeoxycholic acid in both bile and liver. These modifications differed from the changes seen in the nuclear bile acid pool, where a decrease in the proportion of cholic acid together with an increase in that of ursodeoxycholic acid were the major changes observed during hepatocarcinogenesis. With regard to the ‘flat’ bile acids (allo-cholic acid plus Δ5- or Δ4-unsaturated bile acids), a marked hepatocarcinogenesis-induced increase in the output of these species in bile was found. However, these bile acids were only found in liver homogenates at the hepatoma stage, whereas they were not detected in isolated nuclei at any stage of hepatocarcinogenesis. In summary, these results support the existence of a bile acid pool in hepatocyte nuclei whose composition differs from that of the extranuclear bile acid pool. Moreover, they indicate that, during hepatocarcinogenesis, the composition of the nuclear pool undergoes important alterations.

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