Estrogen-induced cholestasis occurs in many women who are susceptible due to pregnancy or hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal syndrome. 17α-Ethinylestradiol (EE), as a synthetic estrogen, has been widely used to study the underlying mechanisms of estrogen-induced cholestasis. Recent studies have also reported that liver kinase B1 (LKB1)-mediated activation of AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) plays a critical role in the regulation of canalicular network formation. However, the role of AMPK in EE-induced cholestasis remains to be determined. In this study, the effects of EE (1-100 µM) on AMPK activation and the expression of farnesoid X receptor (FXR) and hepatic bile acid transporters were examined in in vitro using 3D-cultured rat primary hepatocytes and in in vivo using rat cholestasis models. We also used specific chemical agonist and antagonist of AMPK, AMPK subunit-specific antibodies and lentiviral shRNAs for AMPKα1 and AMPKα2 to delineate the role of AMPK in EE-induced cholestasis and potential cellular mechanisms. We found that EE-induced phosphorylation of AMPKα1 via extracellular signal-regulated kinases-LKB1-mediated signaling pathways and subsequent nuclear translocation accounted for the down-regulation of FXR and bile acid transporters and disruption of bile acid homeostasis. Inhibition of AMPK activation using an AMPK antagonist Compound C (2 µM) or down-regulation of AMPKα1 using gene-specific shRNA attenuated EE-induced cholestasis both in in vitro and in in vivo. In conclusion, these results revealed that activation of cAMP-ERK-LKB1-AMPKα1 signaling pathway plays a critical role in EE-mediated dysregulation of the expression of FXR and bile acid transporters. AMPKα1 may represent an important therapeutic target for estrogen-induced cholestasis.
Keywords: AMPKα1; Bile acid transporters; Cholestasis; Estrogen; FXR.