Obeticholic acid, a farnesoid X receptor agonist, improves portal hypertension by two distinct pathways in cirrhotic rats

Hepatology. 2014 Jun;59(6):2286-98. doi: 10.1002/hep.26939. Epub 2014 Apr 14.


The farnesoid X receptor (FXR) is a nuclear bile acid receptor involved in bile acid homeostasis, hepatic and intestinal inflammation, liver fibrosis, and cardiovascular disease. We studied the effect of short-term treatment with obeticholic acid (INT-747), a potent selective FXR agonist, on intrahepatic hemodynamic dysfunction and signaling pathways in different rat models of cirrhotic portal hypertension (PHT). For this, thioacetamide (TAA)-intoxicated and bile-duct-ligated (BDL) rats were used as models. After gavage of two doses of 30 mg/kg of INT-747 or vehicle within 24 hours, in vivo hemodynamics were assessed. Additionally, we evaluated the direct effect of INT-747 on total intrahepatic vascular resistance (IHVR) and intrahepatic vascular tone (endothelial dysfunction and hyperresponsiveness to methoxamine) by means of an in situ liver perfusion system and on hepatic stellate cell contraction in vitro. FXR expression and involved intrahepatic vasoactive pathways (e.g., endothelial nitric oxide synthase [eNOS], Rho-kinase, and dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase [DDAH]) were analyzed by immunohistochemistry, reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction, or western blotting. In both cirrhotic models, FXR expression was decreased. Treatment with INT-747 in TAA and BDL reactivated the FXR downstream signaling pathway and decreased portal pressure by lowering total IHVR without deleterious systemic hypotension. In the perfused TAA and BDL cirrhotic liver, INT-747 improved endothelial vasorelaxation capacity, but not hyperresponsiveness. In both groups, this was associated with an increased eNOS activity, which, in TAA, related to down-regulation of Rho-kinase and in BDL to up-regulation of DDAH-2.

Conclusion: FXR agonist INT-747 improves PHT in two different rat models of cirrhosis by decreasing IHVR. This hemodynamic effect relates to increased intrahepatic eNOS activity by pathways that differ depending on the etiology of cirrhosis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid / pharmacology
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Down-Regulation
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Hypertension, Portal / drug therapy*
  • Hypertension, Portal / etiology
  • Hypertension, Portal / physiopathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / chemically induced
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III / metabolism
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / agonists
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*


  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • obeticholic acid
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type III
  • Nos3 protein, rat