Bile acids: chemistry, pathochemistry, biology, pathobiology, and therapeutics

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2008 Aug;65(16):2461-83. doi: 10.1007/s00018-008-7568-6.


Bile acids and bile alcohols in the form of their conjugates are amphipathic end products of cholesterol metabolism with multiple physiological functions. The great variety of bile acids and bile alcohols that are present in vertebrates are tabulated. Bile salts have an enterohepatic circulation resulting from efficient vectorial transport of bile salts through the hepatocyte and the ileal enterocyte; such transport leads to the accumulation of a pool of bile salts that cycles between the liver and intestine. Bile salt anions promote lipid absorption, enhance tryptic cleavage of dietary proteins, and have antimicrobial effects. Bile salts are signaling molecules, activating nuclear receptors in the hepatocyte and ileal enterocyte, as well as an increasing number of G-protein coupled receptors. Bile acids are used therapeutically to correct deficiency states, to decrease the cholesterol saturation of bile, or to decrease the cytotoxicity of retained bile acids in cholestatic liver disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / chemistry*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism*
  • Biliary Tract Diseases / pathology*
  • Biliary Tract Diseases / physiopathology
  • Biliary Tract Diseases / therapy*
  • Biological Transport
  • Blood Circulation
  • Carrier Proteins / metabolism
  • Enterohepatic Circulation
  • Humans
  • Membrane Glycoproteins / metabolism


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Carrier Proteins
  • Membrane Glycoproteins
  • bile acid binding proteins