Small heterodimer partner (SHP, NR0B2) is a unique member of the nuclear receptor (NR) superfamily that contains the dimerization and ligand-binding domain found in other family members, but lacks the conserved DNA-binding domain. The ability of SHP to bind directly to multiple NRs is crucial for its physiological function as a transcriptional inhibitor of gene expression. A wide variety of interacting partners for SHP have been identified, indicating the potential for SHP to regulate an array of genes in different biological pathways. In this review, we summarize studies concerning the structure and target genes of SHP and discuss recent progress in understanding the function of SHP in bile acid, cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, and drug metabolism. In addition, we review the regulatory role of SHP in microRNA (miRNA) regulation, liver fibrosis and cancer progression. The fact that SHP controls a complex set of genes in multiple metabolic pathways suggests the intriguing possibility of developing new therapeutics for metabolic diseases, including fatty liver, dyslipidemia and obesity, by regulating SHP with small molecules. To achieve this goal, more progress regarding SHP ligands and protein structure will be required. Besides its metabolic regulatory function, studies by us and other groups provide strong evidence that SHP plays a critical role in the development of cancer, particularly liver and breast cancer. An increased understanding of the fundamental mechanisms by which SHP regulates the development of cancers will be critical in applying knowledge of SHP in diagnostic, therapeutic or preventive strategies for specific cancers. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Translating nuclear receptors from health to disease.
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