Mitochondrial oxidative stress alters a pathway in Caenorhabditis elegans strongly resembling that of bile acid biosynthesis and secretion in vertebrates

PLoS Genet. 2012;8(3):e1002553. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1002553. Epub 2012 Mar 15.


Mammalian bile acids (BAs) are oxidized metabolites of cholesterol whose amphiphilic properties serve in lipid and cholesterol uptake. BAs also act as hormone-like substances that regulate metabolism. The Caenorhabditis elegans clk-1 mutants sustain elevated mitochondrial oxidative stress and display a slow defecation phenotype that is sensitive to the level of dietary cholesterol. We found that: 1) The defecation phenotype of clk-1 mutants is suppressed by mutations in tat-2 identified in a previous unbiased screen for suppressors of clk-1. TAT-2 is homologous to ATP8B1, a flippase required for normal BA secretion in mammals. 2) The phenotype is suppressed by cholestyramine, a resin that binds BAs. 3) The phenotype is suppressed by the knock-down of C. elegans homologues of BA-biosynthetic enzymes. 4) The phenotype is enhanced by treatment with BAs. 5) Lipid extracts from C. elegans contain an activity that mimics the effect of BAs on clk-1, and the activity is more abundant in clk-1 extracts. 6) clk-1 and clk-1;tat-2 double mutants show altered cholesterol content. 7) The clk-1 phenotype is enhanced by high dietary cholesterol and this requires TAT-2. 8) Suppression of clk-1 by tat-2 is rescued by BAs, and this requires dietary cholesterol. 9) The clk-1 phenotype, including the level of activity in lipid extracts, is suppressed by antioxidants and enhanced by depletion of mitochondrial superoxide dismutases. These observations suggest that C. elegans synthesizes and secretes molecules with properties and functions resembling those of BAs. These molecules act in cholesterol uptake, and their level of synthesis is up-regulated by mitochondrial oxidative stress. Future investigations should reveal whether these molecules are in fact BAs, which would suggest the unexplored possibility that the elevated oxidative stress that characterizes the metabolic syndrome might participate in disease processes by affecting the regulation of metabolism by BAs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / genetics
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / biosynthesis*
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / genetics*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins / metabolism*
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / genetics
  • Caenorhabditis elegans* / metabolism
  • Cholesterol* / biosynthesis
  • Cholesterol* / metabolism
  • Cholestyramine Resin / pharmacology
  • Gene Knockdown Techniques
  • Humans
  • Lipids / pharmacology
  • Lipoproteins / metabolism
  • Mitochondria / genetics
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Oxidative Stress* / genetics
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Superoxide Dismutase / antagonists & inhibitors


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • CLK-1 protein, C elegans
  • Caenorhabditis elegans Proteins
  • Lipids
  • Lipoproteins
  • Cholestyramine Resin
  • Cholesterol
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • Adenosine Triphosphatases
  • ATP8B1 protein, human