Catabolites of cholesterol synthesis pathways and forskolin as activators of the farnesoid X-activated nuclear receptor

Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2000 Mar 1;163(2):195-202. doi: 10.1006/taap.1999.8869.


The nuclear receptors are a family of transcriptional mediators that, upon activation, bind DNA and regulate gene transcription. Among these receptors, the farnesoid X-activated receptor (FXR) has recently been identified as one activated by bile acids and farnesol. To investigate the potential of other sterols to activate FXR, as well as to examine relevant relationships among identified activators of FXR, the current study used a mammalian cell transcription assay to quantify and compare activation potential. In addition to the classical bile acids deoxycholate (DCA) and chenodeoxycholate (CDCA), FXR was shown to be transcriptionally active in the presence of the androgen catabolites 5alpha-androstan-3alpha-ol-17-one (androsterone) and 5beta-androstan-3alpha-ol-17-one (etiocholanolone), as well as the sterol bronchodilatory drug forskolin. Conversely, cholesterol and several other key precursors to the androgens and bile acids were either not active or only slightly active. Furthermore, it was observed that the bile acid ursodeoxycholate (UDCA) could inhibit DCA and CDCA activation of FXR in a manner parallel to its ability to antagonize DCA and CDCA induction of apoptosis. By far, the most efficacious activator of FXR was forskolin. Interestingly, although it is classically viewed as an initiator of the adenylate cyclase/protein kinase A (PKA) pathway, PKA inhibition did not inhibit forskolin's activation of FXR nor was cyclic AMP (cAMP) able to stimulate FXR-mediated transcription. These data would suggest that forskolin acts as a ligand for FXR rather than as a secondary activator of FXR and could have important implications with respect to its potential toxicity and pharmacological use.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Bile Acids and Salts / pharmacology
  • Bronchodilator Agents / pharmacology
  • Cell Line
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic / drug therapy
  • Cholesterol / biosynthesis
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Colforsin / pharmacology*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / drug effects*
  • Plasmids
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / drug effects*
  • Transcription Factors / drug effects*
  • Transfection


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Bronchodilator Agents
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Transcription Factors
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor
  • Colforsin
  • Cholesterol