Bile acids: from digestion to cancers

Biochimie. 2013 Mar;95(3):504-17. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2012.06.022. Epub 2012 Jul 3.


Bile acids (BAs) are cholesterol metabolites that have been extensively studied these last decades. BAs have been classified in two groups. Primary BAs are synthesized in liver, when secondary BAs are produced by intestinal bacteria. Recently, next to their ancestral roles in digestion and fat solubilization, BAs have been described as signaling molecules involved in many physiological functions, such as glucose and energy metabolisms. These signaling pathways involve the activation of the nuclear receptor FXRα or of the G-protein-coupled receptor TGR5. These two receptors have selective affinity to different types of BAs and show different expression patterns, leading to different described roles of BAs. It has been suggested for long that BAs could be molecules linked to tumor processes. Indeed, as many other molecules, regarding analyzed tissues, BAs could have either protective or pro-carcinogen activities. However, the molecular mechanisms responsible for these effects have not been characterized yet. It involves either chemical properties or their capacities to activate their specific receptors FXRα or TGR5. This review highlights and discusses the potential links between BAs and cancer diseases and the perspectives of using BAs as potential therapeutic targets in several pathologies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism*
  • Digestion*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology


  • Bile Acids and Salts