Vitamin D receptor activation down-regulates the small heterodimer partner and increases CYP7A1 to lower cholesterol

Gastroenterology. 2014 Apr;146(4):1048-59. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2013.12.027. Epub 2013 Dec 21.


Background & aims: Little is known about the effects of the vitamin D receptor (VDR) on hepatic activity of human cholesterol 7α-hydroxylase (CYP7A1) and cholesterol metabolism. We studied these processes in mice in vivo and mouse and human hepatocytes.

Methods: Farnesoid X receptor (Fxr)(-/-), small heterodimer partner (Shp)(-/-), and C57BL/6 (wild-type control) mice were fed normal or Western diets for 3 weeks and were then given intraperitoneal injections of vehicle (corn oil) or 1α,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 (1,25[OH]2D3; 4 doses, 2.5 μg/kg, every other day). Plasma and tissue samples were collected and levels of Vdr, Shp, Cyp7a1, Cyp24a1, and rodent fibroblast growth factor (Fgf) 15 expression, as well as levels of cholesterol, were measured. We studied the regulation of Shp by Vdr using reporter and mobility shift assays in transfected human embryonic kidney 293 cells, quantitative polymerase chain reaction with mouse tissues and mouse and human hepatocytes, and chromatin immunoprecipitation assays with mouse liver.

Results: We first confirmed the presence of Vdr mRNA and protein expression in livers of mice. In mice fed normal diets and given injections of 1,25(OH)2D3, liver and plasma concentrations of 1,25(OH)2D3 increased and decreased in unison. Changes in hepatic Cyp7a1 messenger RNA (mRNA) correlated with those of Cyp24a1 (a Vdr target gene) and inversely with Shp mRNA, but not ileal Fgf15 mRNA. Similarly, incubation with 1,25(OH)2D3 increased levels of Cyp24a1/CYP24A1 and Cyp7a1/CYP7A1 mRNA in mouse and human hepatocytes, and reduced levels of Shp mRNA in mouse hepatocytes. In Fxr(-/-) and wild-type mice with hypercholesterolemia, injection of 1,25(OH)2D3 consistently reduced levels of plasma and liver cholesterol and Shp mRNA, and increased hepatic Cyp7a1 mRNA and protein; these changes were not observed in Shp(-/-) mice given 1,25(OH)2D3 and fed Western diets. Truncation of the human small heterodimer partner (SHP) promoter and deletion analyses revealed VDR-dependent inhibition of SHP, and mobility shift assays showed direct binding of VDR to enhancer regions of SHP. In addition, chromatin immunoprecipitation analysis of livers from mice showed that injection of 1,25(OH)2D3 increased recruitment of Vdr and rodent retinoid X receptor to the Shp promoter.

Conclusions: Activation of the VDR represses hepatic SHP to increase levels of mouse and human CYP7A1 and reduce cholesterol.

Keywords: Bile Acid; Farnesoid X Receptor; Liver; Transcriptional Regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Binding Sites
  • Calcitriol / pharmacology*
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Cholesterol 7-alpha-Hydroxylase / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Enzymologic
  • HEK293 Cells
  • Hepatocytes / drug effects*
  • Hepatocytes / enzymology
  • Humans
  • Hypercholesterolemia / drug therapy
  • Hypercholesterolemia / enzymology
  • Hypercholesterolemia / genetics
  • Ileum / drug effects
  • Ileum / enzymology
  • Liver / drug effects*
  • Liver / enzymology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Promoter Regions, Genetic
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / agonists*
  • Receptors, Calcitriol / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / deficiency
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / genetics
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism*
  • Steroid Hydroxylases / metabolism
  • Time Factors
  • Transfection
  • Vitamin D3 24-Hydroxylase


  • RNA, Messenger
  • Receptors, Calcitriol
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • VDR protein, human
  • fibroblast growth factor 15, mouse
  • nuclear receptor subfamily 0, group B, member 2
  • farnesoid X-activated receptor
  • Fibroblast Growth Factors
  • Cholesterol
  • Steroid Hydroxylases
  • CYP7A1 protein, human
  • Cholesterol 7-alpha-Hydroxylase
  • Cyp7a1 protein, mouse
  • CYP24A1 protein, human
  • Cyp24a1 protein, mouse
  • Vitamin D3 24-Hydroxylase
  • Calcitriol