Objective: We explored the hypothesis that TGR5, the bile acid (BA) G-protein-coupled receptor highly expressed in biliary epithelial cells, protects the liver against BA overload through the regulation of biliary epithelium permeability.
Design: Experiments were performed under basal and TGR5 agonist treatment. In vitro transepithelial electric resistance (TER) and FITC-dextran diffusion were measured in different cell lines. In vivo FITC-dextran was injected in the gallbladder (GB) lumen and traced in plasma. Tight junction proteins and TGR5-induced signalling were investigated in vitro and in vivo (wild-type [WT] and TGR5-KO livers and GB). WT and TGR5-KO mice were submitted to bile duct ligation or alpha-naphtylisothiocyanate intoxication under vehicle or TGR5 agonist treatment, and liver injury was studied.
Results: In vitro TGR5 stimulation increased TER and reduced paracellular permeability for dextran. In vivo dextran diffusion after GB injection was increased in TGR5-knock-out (KO) as compared with WT mice and decreased on TGR5 stimulation. In TGR5-KO bile ducts and GB, junctional adhesion molecule A (JAM-A) was hypophosphorylated and selectively downregulated among TJP analysed. TGR5 stimulation induced JAM-A phosphorylation and stabilisation both in vitro and in vivo, associated with protein kinase C-zeta activation. TGR5 agonist-induced TER increase as well as JAM-A protein stabilisation was dependent on JAM-A Ser285 phosphorylation. TGR5 agonist-treated mice were protected from cholestasis-induced liver injury, and this protection was significantly impaired in JAM-A-KO mice.
Conclusion: The BA receptor TGR5 regulates biliary epithelial barrier function in vitro and in vivo through an impact on JAM-A expression and phosphorylation, thereby protecting liver parenchyma against bile leakage.