Treatment with glucocorticoids (GCs) may cause adverse effects, including cholestasis. The ability of dexamethasone, prednisolone and budesonide to affect the liver handling of bile acids (BAs) has been investigated. In rats treated with GCs for 4 days, altered serum and bile BA levels, changed conjugation pattern, and delayed and decreased ability to conjugate/secrete exogenously administered deoxycholate, were found using HPLC-MS/MS. RT-QPCR analyses revealed that GC treatment also induced a down-regulation of liver nuclear receptors (Fxr, Gr and Shp), transporters (Ntcp, Mrp4 and Bcrp) and enzymes (Cyp7a1 and Baat), whereas Bsep, Mrp2 and Cyp27a1 were up-regulated. Human HepG2 and Alexander cell lines were used as in vitro models of liver cells with and without constitutive FXR expression, respectively. In HepG2 cells, GCs induced a decreased expression of FXR and SHP, and inhibited the regulatory effect of GW4064 on FXR-target genes. In Alexander cells, only when they were transfected with FXR+RXR, GW4064 caused up-regulation of SHP and OSTβ, and a down-regulation of CYP27A1. GCs had the opposite effect on these genes, both in the absence and in the presence of FXR expression. Co-transfection of Alexander cells with IR-1-Luc and FXR+RXR revealed that GCs did not inhibit but moderately enhanced FXR activity. Moreover, GCs have a synergistic effect on GW4064-induced FXR activation, whereas chenodeoxycholate and GW4064 have an additive effect. In conclusion, GCs are able to directly or indirectly activate FXR but they also antagonize, through FXR-independent mechanisms, the expression of FXR and FXR target genes involved in the hepatic handling of BAs.
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