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The Pharmacology of Bile Acids and Their Receptors

  • Stefano FiorucciEmail author
  • Eleonora Distrutti
Part of the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology book series


This review provides a historical perspective of bile acids and their receptors as therapeutic targets. Bile acids are atypical steroids generated by the liver from cholesterol and have been used for almost half a century for treating liver and biliary disorders. Since the early 1970s of the last century, chenodeoxycholic acid (CDCA), a primary bile acid, and ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), a secondary bile acid and the 7βepimer of CDCA, have been shown effective in promoting the dissolution of cholesterol gallstones. However, lack of activity and side effects associated with the use of CDCA, along with the advent of laparoscopic cholecystectomy, have greatly reduced the clinical relevance of this application. At the turn of the century, however, the discovery that bile acids activate specific receptors, along with the discovery that those receptors are placed at the interface of the host and intestinal microbiota regulating physiologically relevant enterohepatic and entero-pancreatic axes, has led to a “bile acid renaissance.” Similarly to other steroids, bile acids bind and activate both cell surface and nuclear receptors, including the bile acid sensor farnesoid X receptor (FXR) and a G-protein-coupled bile acid receptor, known as GPBAR1 (TGR5). Both receptors have been proved druggable, and several highly potent, selective, and nonselective ligands for the two receptors have been discovered in the last two decades. Currently, in addition to obeticholic acid, a semisynthetic derivative of CDCA and the first in class of FXR ligands approved for clinical use, either selective or dual FXR and GPBAR1 ligands, have been developed, and some of them are undergoing pre-approval trials. The effects of FXR and GPBAR1 ligands in different therapeutic area are reviewed.


Bile acids FXR Glucose metabolism GPBAR1 G-protein-coupled receptors Lipid metabolism Liver Nuclear receptors 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Gastroenterology, Department of Surgical and Biomedical SciencesUniversity of PerugiaPerugiaItaly
  2. 2.Azienda Ospedaliera di PerugiaPerugiaItaly

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