Background/aims: The existence of impairment in bile acid transport across the placenta during intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy and the effect of ursodeoxycholic acid treatment (1 g/day) were investigated.
Methods: Kinetic parameters were calculated from experiments carried out on membrane vesicles obtained from basal (TPMb, fetal-facing) and apical (TPMa, maternal-facing) trophoblast plasma membranes. Bile acid uptake was measured using varying concentrations of [14C]-glycocholate and a rapid filtration technique.
Results: The maximal velocity of transport (Vmax), the apparent affinity constant (Kt) and the efficiency (Ef) of transport (Vmax/Kt) of the anion:bile acid exchanger located at the TPMb were reduced in intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Ursodeoxycholic acid induced a reversal of Vmax, Kt and Ef to normal values. Owing to the 3-fold increase in Vmax, with no change in Kt, intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy induced an enhancement in Ef of ATP-independent bile acid transport across TPMa. Both Vmax and Ef were restored to normal values by ursodeoxycholic acid. Finally, in ATP-dependent bile acid transport across TPMa, a reduction in the Ef due to an increase in Vmax together with a more pronounced increase in Kt was found. This impairment was also reversed by ursodeoxycholic acid.
Conclusions: These results suggest that placenta bile acid transport systems are impaired in intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy. Moreover, together with the confirmed beneficial effect for intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy patients, such as the relief of pruritus and the improvement in biochemical markers of cholestasis, ursodeoxycholic acid treatment restores the ability of the placenta to carry out vectorial bile acid transfer.