ATP-dependent transport of biliary constituents, such as bile acids, reduced glutathione, and bilirubin glucuronosides across the hepatocyte canalicular membrane into bile represents the decisive driving force for the formation of biliary fluid. Functional characterization, cloning, and localization of hepatocellular transporter proteins has provided a molecular understanding of the mechanisms underlying bile flow and intrahepatic cholestasis. Genetic variants in humans and genetic knockout in rodents, or transporter inhibition have indicated that both the conjugate export pump MRP2 (multidrug resistance protein 2; ABCC2) and the bile salt export pump BSEP (ABCB11) are major contributors to bile acid-independent and bile acid-dependent bile flow, respectively. In humans, genetic variants of BSEP, leading to an impaired transport activity or localization of the protein in the canalicular membrane, are associated with severe intrahepatic cholestasis. Efflux pumps of the basolateral hepatocyte membrane, particularly MRP3 (multidrug resistance protein 3; ABCC3) and MRP4 (multidrug resistance protein 4; ABCC4) pump substances from hepatocytes into sinusoidal blood. These efflux pumps have been recognized in recent years to play an important compensatory role in cholestasis and to contribute to the balance between uptake and efflux of substances during the vectorial transport from sinusoidal blood into bile. This sinusoidal efflux not only enables subsequent renal elimination, but also re-uptake of substances into neighboring and more centrally located hepatocytes in the sinusoid.
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