Bile acid synthetic defects and liver disease: a comprehensive review

Pediatr Dev Pathol. 2004 Jul-Aug;7(4):315-34. doi: 10.1007/s10024-002-1201-8. Epub 2004 Jul 15.


Bile acid synthetic defects (BASD), uncommon genetic disorders that are responsible for approximately 2% of persistent cholestasis in infants, are reviewed with emphasis on morphology of associated liver disease. The associated liver diseases may be life threatening, and are treatable, usually by replacement of deficient primary bile acids. Specific diagnosis is made by analysis of body fluids (bile, blood, and urine) using fast atom bombardment-mass spectroscopy (FAB-MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy (GC-MS). Inborn errors have been demonstrated for four single enzymes involved in modification of the sterol nucleus and in five steps in modification of the side-chain to form cholic and chenodeoxycholic acids, the primary bile acids. With few exceptions, BASD cause liver diseases that vary from severe to mild depending on the defect. In three of four known defects of sterol nucleus modification, liver disease is progressive. Progression of liver disease is most rapid when the defect results in accumulation of toxic monohydroxy and unsaturated oxo-bile acids. Liver disease may be transient, delayed in onset and mild. Reduced bile flow caused by atypical bile acids contributes to cholestasis and may be the dominant factor in defects of side-chain synthesis, peroxisomal abiogenesis and S-L-O syndrome. Pathological findings may include intralobular cholestasis with giant cell transformation, prevalence of necrotic hepatocytes including giant cell forms, and hepatitic injury confined to the portal limiting plate where the smallest bile ductules may be injured and where fibrosis typically develops. Interlobular bile ducts are usually spared. Ultrastructure of liver reveals nonspecific changes with the possible exception of unusual canalicular morphology in some defects. The course of BASD may be modified by replacement of deficient primary bile acids, which produces beneficial feedback inhibition of abnormal bile acid production and enhances choluresis. Giant cell transformation is present in all symptomatic infants with BASD and seems to have a more consistent association with BASD than with the many other liver diseases in infants where it occurs. We hypothesize that immature hepatocytes of infants may fuse to form multinucleate hepatocytes whenever atypical or toxic bile acids are present and the pool of normal bile acids is critically reduced.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases / deficiency
  • Adult
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Liver Diseases / congenital*
  • Liver Diseases / enzymology
  • Liver Diseases / pathology*
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / enzymology
  • Metabolism, Inborn Errors / pathology
  • Oxidoreductases / deficiency


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Oxidoreductases
  • 3-Hydroxysteroid Dehydrogenases