Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α activates human multidrug resistance transporter 3/ATP-binding cassette protein subfamily B4 transcription and increases rat biliary phosphatidylcholine secretion

Hepatology. 2014 Mar;59(3):1030-42. doi: 10.1002/hep.26894. Epub 2014 Jan 27.


Multidrug resistance transporter 3/ATP-binding cassette protein subfamily B4 (MDR3/ABCB4) is a critical determinant of biliary phosphatidylcholine (PC) secretion. Clinically, mutations and partial deficiencies in MDR3 result in cholestatic liver injury. Thus, MDR3 is a potential therapeutic target for cholestatic liver disease. Fenofibrate is a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) α ligand that has antiinflammatory actions and regulates bile acid detoxification. Here we examined the mechanism by which fenofibrate regulates MDR3 gene expression. Fenofibrate significantly up-regulated MDR3 messenger RNA (mRNA) and protein expression in primary cultured human hepatocytes, and stimulated MDR3 promoter activity in HepG2 cells. In silico analysis of 5'-upstream region of human MDR3 gene revealed a number of PPARα response elements (PPRE). Electrophoretic mobility shift (EMSA) and chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays demonstrated specific binding of PPARα to the human MDR3 promoter. Targeted mutagenesis of three novel PPREs reduced inducibility of the MDR3 promoter by fenofibrate. In collagen sandwich cultured rat hepatocytes, treatment with fenofibrate increased secretion of fluorescent PC into bile canaliculi.

Conclusion: Fenofibrate transactivates MDR3 gene transcription by way of the binding of PPARα to three novel and functionally critical PPREs in the MDR3 promoter. Fenofibrate treatment further stimulates biliary phosphatidylcholine secretion in rat hepatocytes, thereby providing a functional correlate. We have established a molecular mechanism that may contribute to the beneficial use of fenofibrate therapy in human cholestatic liver disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Bile Canaliculi / metabolism
  • Biliary Tract / drug effects
  • Biliary Tract / metabolism
  • Cholestasis / metabolism*
  • Fenofibrate / pharmacology*
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepatocytes / cytology
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects
  • Hepatocytes / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Hypolipidemic Agents / pharmacology
  • PPAR alpha / agonists
  • PPAR alpha / metabolism*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism*
  • Primary Cell Culture
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic / physiology
  • Rats
  • Transcription, Genetic / drug effects
  • Transcription, Genetic / physiology


  • ATP Binding Cassette Transporter, Subfamily B
  • Hypolipidemic Agents
  • PPAR alpha
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • multidrug resistance protein 3
  • Fenofibrate