Scientific Update - Bile Acids in Cholangiocarcinoma: A Potential Diagnostic Biomarker

Bile acids are the primary component of bile, a fluid that helps digest fats. In addition to aiding in digestion, bile acids may contribute to the formation and progression of gastrointestinal cancers. Bile acids can damage cell membranes and allow carcinogens to enter cells, damage DNA, and induce tumor formation. Additionally, bile acids may impact the cellular expression of mucins-a class of proteins that are overexpressed in some cancers and can facilitate tumor growth.

A recent study aimed to characterize the role of bile acids in cholangiocarcinoma. To begin, the study tested whether the bile acid profile of cholangiocarcinoma was distinct from benign biliary disease. Indeed, cholangiocarcinoma patients had a higher total bile acid concentration and an increased proportion of taurochenodeoxycholic acid. This distinct bile acid profile could ultimately pave the road for new diagnostic approaches for cholangiocarcinoma, leading to earlier detection and improved patient outcomes.

Moreover, the study also sought to understand how certain bile acids contribute to cholangiocarcinoma. Using cell culture models, the authors found evidence that bile acids-particularly taurochenodeoxycholic acid-may affect MUC5AC processing. MUC5AC is a mucin protein overexpressed in cholangiocarcinoma. In the long run, a better understanding of how bile acids affect MUC5AC could lead to new treatment options for cholangiocarcinoma and other tumor types.


Danese E, Lievens PM-J, Padoan A, Peserico D, Galavotti R, Negrini D, Gelati M, Conci S, Ruzzenente A, Salvagno GL, et al. Plasma Bile Acid Profiling and Modulation of Secreted Mucin 5AC in Cholangiocarcinoma. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2023; 24(16):12794.

Kelly Butler

Kelly Butler is an NIH Postbac Research Fellow and the Founding Director of SAFE