Role of bile acids and bile acid receptors in metabolic regulation

Physiol Rev. 2009 Jan;89(1):147-91. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00010.2008.


The incidence of the metabolic syndrome has taken epidemic proportions in the past decades, contributing to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. The metabolic syndrome can be defined as a cluster of cardiovascular disease risk factors including visceral obesity, insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, increased blood pressure, and hypercoagulability. The farnesoid X receptor (FXR) belongs to the superfamily of ligand-activated nuclear receptor transcription factors. FXR is activated by bile acids, and FXR-deficient (FXR(-/-)) mice display elevated serum levels of triglycerides and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, demonstrating a critical role of FXR in lipid metabolism. In an opposite manner, activation of FXR by bile acids (BAs) or nonsteroidal synthetic FXR agonists lowers plasma triglycerides by a mechanism that may involve the repression of hepatic SREBP-1c expression and/or the modulation of glucose-induced lipogenic genes. A cross-talk between BA and glucose metabolism was recently identified, implicating both FXR-dependent and FXR-independent pathways. The first indication for a potential role of FXR in diabetes came from the observation that hepatic FXR expression is reduced in animal models of diabetes. While FXR(-/-) mice display both impaired glucose tolerance and decreased insulin sensitivity, activation of FXR improves hyperglycemia and dyslipidemia in vivo in diabetic mice. Finally, a recent report also indicates that BA may regulate energy expenditure in a FXR-independent manner in mice, via activation of the G protein-coupled receptor TGR5. Taken together, these findings suggest that modulation of FXR activity and BA metabolism may open new attractive pharmacological approaches for the treatment of the metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atherosclerosis / metabolism
  • Bile Acids and Salts / physiology*
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Glucose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism
  • Metabolic Syndrome / metabolism
  • Metabolism / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / physiology*
  • Transcription Factors / physiology*


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Lipoproteins
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Transcription Factors
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor
  • Glucose