Gut microbiota, cirrhosis, and alcohol regulate bile acid metabolism in the gut

Jason M. Ridlon, Dae Joong Kang, Phillip B. Hylemon, Jasmohan S. Bajaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The understanding of the complex role of the bile acid-gut microbiome axis in health and disease processes is evolving rapidly. Our focus revolves around the interaction of the gut microbiota with liver diseases, especially cirrhosis. The bile acid pool size has recently been shown to be a function of microbial metabolism of bile acid, and regulation of the microbiota by bile acids is important in the development and progression of several liver diseases. Humans produce a large, conjugated hydrophilic bile acid pool, maintained through positive-feedback antagonism of farnesoid X receptor (FXR) in the intestine and liver. Microbes use bile acids, and via FXR signaling this results in a smaller, unconjugated hydrophobic bile acid pool. This equilibrium is critical to maintain health. The challenge is to examine the manifold functions of gut bile acids as modulators of antibiotic, probiotic, and disease progression in cirrhosis, metabolic syndrome, and alcohol use. Recent studies have shown potential mechanisms explaining how perturbations in the microbiome affect bile acid pool size and composition. With advancing liver disease and cirrhosis, there is dysbiosis in the fecal, ileal, and colonic mucosa, in addition to a decrease in bile acid concentration in the intestine due to the liver problems. This results in a dramatic shift toward the Firmicutes, particularly Clostridium cluster XIVa, and increasing production of deoxycholic acid. Alcohol intake speeds up these processes in the subjects with and without cirrhosis without significant FXR feedback. Taken together, these pathways can impact intestinal and systemic inflammation while worsening dysbiosis. The interaction between bile acids, alcohol, cirrhosis, and dysbiosis is an important relationship that influences intestinal and systemic inflammation, which in turn determines progression of the overall disease process. These interactions and the impact of commonly used therapies for liver disease can provide insight into the pathogenesis of inflammation in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)338-345
Number of pages8
JournalDigestive Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 9 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Alcohol
  • Bile acid metabolism
  • Gut microbiota

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gastroenterology


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