Farnesoid X receptor alpha: a molecular link between bile acids and steroid signaling?

Cell Mol Life Sci. 2013 Dec;70(23):4511-26. doi: 10.1007/s00018-013-1387-0. Epub 2013 Jun 20.


Bile acids are cholesterol metabolites that have been extensively studied in recent decades. In addition to having ancestral roles in digestion and fat solubilization, bile acids have recently 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 farnesoid X receptor (FXRα) or of the G protein-coupled receptor TGR5. In this review, we will focus on the emerging role of FXRα, suggesting important functions for the receptor in steroid metabolism. It has been described that FXRα is expressed in the adrenal glands and testes, where it seems to control steroid production. FXRα also participates in steroid catabolism in the liver and interferes with the steroid signaling pathways in target tissues via crosstalk with steroid receptors. In this review, we discuss the potential impacts of bile acid (BA), through its interactions with steroid metabolism, on glucose metabolism, sexual function, and prostate and breast cancers. Although several of the published reports rely on in vitro studies, they highlight the need to understand the interactions that may affect health. This effect is important because BA levels are increased in several pathophysiological conditions related to liver injuries. Additionally, BA receptors are targeted clinically using therapeutics to treat liver diseases, diabetes, and cancers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Prostatic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction*
  • Steroids / metabolism*


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