Diversity of bile salts in fish and amphibians: evolution of a complex biochemical pathway

Physiol Biochem Zool. Mar-Apr 2010;83(2):308-21. doi: 10.1086/649966.


Bile salts are the major end metabolites of cholesterol and are also important in lipid and protein digestion, as well as shaping of the gut microflora. Previous studies had demonstrated variation of bile salt structures across vertebrate species. We greatly extend prior surveys of bile salt variation in fish and amphibians, particularly in analysis of the biliary bile salts of Agnatha and Chondrichthyes. While there is significant structural variation of bile salts across all fish orders, bile salt profiles are generally stable within orders of fish and do not correlate with differences in diet. This large data set allowed us to infer evolutionary changes in the bile salt synthetic pathway. The hypothesized ancestral bile salt synthetic pathway, likely exemplified in extant hagfish, is simpler and much shorter than the pathway of most teleost fish and terrestrial vertebrates. Thus, the bile salt synthetic pathway has become longer and more complex throughout vertebrate evolution. Analysis of the evolution of bile salt synthetic pathways provides a rich model system for the molecular evolution of a complex biochemical pathway in vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amphibians / metabolism*
  • Amphibians / physiology
  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / biosynthesis*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / chemistry
  • Bile Acids and Salts / classification
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Bile Acids and Salts / physiology
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways / physiology*
  • Cholestanols / metabolism
  • Elasmobranchii / metabolism
  • Elasmobranchii / physiology
  • Fishes / metabolism*
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Hagfishes / metabolism
  • Hagfishes / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Petromyzon / metabolism
  • Petromyzon / physiology
  • Phylogeny


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Cholestanols