Biliary atresia is a neonatal liver disease with extrahepatic bile duct obstruction and progressive liver fibrosis. The etiology and pathogenesis of the disease are unknown. We previously identified a plant toxin, biliatresone, responsible for biliary atresia in naturally-occurring animal models, that causes cholangiocyte destruction in in-vitro models. Decreases in reduced glutathione (GSH) mimic the effects of biliatresone, and agents that replenish cellular GSH ameliorate the effects of the toxin. The goals of this study were to define signaling pathways downstream of biliatresone that lead to cholangiocyte destruction and to determine their relationship to GSH. Using cholangiocyte culture and 3D cholangiocyte spheroid cultures, we found that biliatresone and decreases in GSH upregulated RhoU/Wrch1, a Wnt signaling family member, which then mediated an increase in Hey2 in the NOTCH signaling pathway, causing downregulation of the transcription factor Sox17. When these genes were up- or down-regulated, the biliatresone effect on spheroids was phenocopied, resulting in lumen obstruction. Biopsies of patients with biliary atresia demonstrated increased RhoU/Wrch1 and Hey2 expression in cholangiocytes. We present a novel pathway of cholangiocyte injury in a model of biliary atresia, which is relevant to human BA and may suggest potential future therapeutics.
Bibliographical notePublisher Copyright:
© 2020, The Author(s).