Nuclear receptor control of enterohepatic circulation

Compr Physiol. 2012 Oct;2(4):2811-28. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c120007.


Enterohepatic circulation is responsible for the capture of bile acids and other steroids produced or metabolized in the liver and secreted to the intestine, for reabsorption back into the circulation and transport back to the liver. Bile acids are secreted from the liver in the form of mixed micelles that also contain phosphatidylcholines and cholesterol that facilitate the uptake of fats and vitamins from the diet due to the surfactant properties of bile acids and lipids. Bile acids are synthesized in the liver from cholesterol by a cascade of enzymes that carry out oxidation and conjugation reactions, and transported to the bile duct and gall bladder where they are stored before being released into the intestine. Bile flow from the gall bladder to the small intestine is triggered by food intake in accordance with its role in lipid and vitamin absorption from the diet. Bile acids are further metabolized by gut bacteria and are transported back to the circulation. Metabolites produced in the liver are termed primary bile acids or primary conjugated bile salts, while the metabolites generated by bacterial are called secondary bile acids. About 95% of bile acids are reabsorbed in the proximal and distal ileum into the hepatic portal vein and then into the liver sinusoids, where they are efficiently transported into the liver with little remaining in circulation. Each bile acid is reabsorbed about 20 times on average before being eliminated. Enterohepatic circulation is under tight regulation by nuclear receptor signaling, notably by the farnesoid X receptor (FXR).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Biological Transport / physiology
  • Biotransformation / physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enterohepatic Circulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology
  • Intestine, Small / metabolism
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / physiology*


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor