BACKGROUND: Kupffer cells are essential for normal hepatic homeostasis and when stimulated, they secrete reactive oxygen species, nitric oxide, eicosanoids, and cytokines. Some of these products are cytotoxic and attack nucleic acids, thiol proteins, or membrane lipids causing lipid peroxidation. Hydrophobic bile acids, such as deoxycholic acid (DCA), can damage hepatocytes by solubilising membranes and impairing mitochondrial function, as well as increasing the generation of reactive oxygen species. OBJECTIVES: The hypothesis that hydrophobic bile acids could stimulate Kupffer cells to increase their capacity to generate reactive oxygen species by measuring cellular lipid peroxidation was tested. Because the hydrophilic bile acid, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) can block hydrophobic bile acid induced cellular phenomena, it was also hypothesised that UDCA could antagonise macrophage activation by hydrophobic bile acids to blunt their capacity to generate reactive oxygen species. METHODS: J-774A.1 murine macrophages were incubated for 24 hours with either 10(-5) M and 10(-4) M (final concentration) DCA alone, or 10(-4) M UDCA alone, or a mixture of 10(-4) M 1:1 molar ratio of DCA and UDCA. At the end of the incubation period, the culture medium was collected for determination of cellular lipid peroxidation by measuring the malondialdehyde (MDA) content in the medium with the thiobarbituric acid reactive substances assay. RESULTS: 10(-5) M and 10(-4) M DCA increased MDA generation by cultured macrophages. 10(-4) M UDCA alone did not increase MDA generation but blocked the peroxidative actions of DCA. CONCLUSIONS: Hydrophobic bile acids, after their hepatic retention, can oxidatively activate Kupffer cells to generate reactive oxygen species. Because UDCA can block this action, the beneficial effect of UDCA is, in part, related to its ability to act as an antioxidant.
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