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Secretin alleviates biliary and liver injury during late-stage primary biliary cholangitis via restoration of secretory processes

Published:August 17, 2022DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhep.2022.07.034

      Highlights

      • The biliary secretin/secretin receptor axis is diminished in late-stage PBC.
      • Secretin treatment alleviates liver damage in a late-stage PBC model.
      • Secretin restores the protective ‘bicarbonate umbrella’ in a late-stage PBC model.
      • Secretin treatment promotes choleresis and restores ductulo-canalicular junctions.
      • The secretin/secretin receptor axis promotes mature cholangiocyte differentiation.

      Background & Aims

      Primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) is characterised by ductopenia, ductular reaction, impairment of anion exchanger 2 (AE2) and the ‘bicarbonate umbrella’. Ductulo-canalicular junction (DCJ) derangement is hypothesised to promote PBC progression. The secretin (Sct)/secretin receptor (SR) axis regulates cystic fibrosis transmembrane receptor (CFTR) and AE2, thus promoting choleresis. We evaluated the role of Sct/SR signalling on biliary secretory processes and subsequent injury in a late-stage PBC mouse model and human samples.

      Methods

      At 32 weeks of age, female and male wild-type and dominant-negative transforming growth factor beta receptor II (late-stage PBC model) mice were treated with Sct for 1 or 8 weeks. Bulk RNA-sequencing was performed in isolated cholangiocytes from mouse models.

      Results

      Biliary Sct/SR/CFTR/AE2 expression and bile bicarbonate levels were reduced in late-stage PBC mouse models and human samples. Sct treatment decreased bile duct loss, ductular reaction, inflammation, and fibrosis in late-stage PBC models. Sct reduced hepatic bile acid levels, modified bile acid composition, and restored the DCJ and ‘bicarbonate umbrella’. RNA-sequencing identified that Sct promoted mature epithelial marker expression, specifically anterior grade protein 2 (Agr2). Late-stage PBC models and human samples exhibited reduced biliary mucin 1 levels, which were enhanced by Sct treatment.

      Conclusion

      Loss of Sct/SR signalling in late-stage PBC results in a faulty ‘bicarbonate umbrella’ and reduced Agr2-mediated mucin production. Sct restores cholangiocyte secretory processes and DCJ formation through enhanced mature cholangiocyte phenotypes and bile duct growth. Sct treatment may be beneficial for individuals with late-stage PBC.

      Impact and implications

      Secretin (Sct) regulates biliary proliferation and bicarbonate secretion in cholangiocytes via its receptor, SR, and in mouse models and human samples of late-stage primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), the Sct/SR axis is blunted along with loss of the protective ‘bicarbonate umbrella’. We found that both short- and long-term Sct treatment ameliorated ductular reaction, immune cell influx, and liver fibrosis in late-stage PBC mouse models. Importantly, Sct treatment promoted bicarbonate and mucin secretion and hepatic bile acid efflux, thus reducing cholestatic and toxic bile acid-associated injury in late-stage PBC mouse models. Our work perpetuates the hypothesis that PBC pathogenesis hinges on secretory defects, and restoration of secretory processes that promote the ‘bicarbonate umbrella’ may be important for amelioration of PBC-associated damage.

      Graphical abstract

      Keywords

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