Defective FXR-FGF15 signaling and bile acid homeostasis in cystic fibrosis mice can be restored by the laxative polyethylene glycol

Anna Bertolini, Ivo P. van de Peppel, Marcela Doktorova-Demmin, Frank A. J. A. Bodewes, Hugo de Jonge, Marcel Bijvelds, Henkjan J. Verkade, Johan W. Jonker*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The gastrointestinal phenotype of cystic fibrosis (CF) features intestinal bile acid (BA) malabsorption, impaired intestinal farnesoid X receptor (FXR) activation, and consequently reduced fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19, FGF15 in mice) production. The osmotic laxative polyethylene glycol (PEG) has been shown to decrease intestinal mucus accumulation in CF mice and could, by doing so, improve BA reabsorption. Here we determined the effect of PEG on BA excretion and FXR-FGF15 signaling in CF mice. Male Cftr(-/-tm1Unc) (CF) and wild-type (WT) littermates were administered PEG 4000 in drinking water and fed either chow or a semisynthetic diet. PEG was withdrawn for 3 days before termination. Fecal BA excretion was measured at PEG dosages of 37 g/l (100%) and 0 g/l (0%). Ileal FXR activation was assessed by gene expression of its downstream targets Fgf15 and small heterodimer partner (Shp). In CF mice, PEG withdrawal increased fecal BA excretion on either diet compared with full PEG dosage (chow, 2-fold, P = 0.06; semisynthetic, 4.4-fold, P = 0.007). PEG withdrawal did not affect fecal BA excretion in WT mice on either diet. After PEG withdrawal, gene expression levels of intestinal FXR target genes Fgf15 and Shp were decreased in CF mice but unaffected in WT littermates. PEG did not affect the gene expression of the main intestinal BA transporter apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter (ASBT). PEG treatment ameliorates intestinal BA malabsorption in CF mice and restores intestinal FXR-FGF15 signaling, independent from Asbt gene expression. These findings highlight the potential of PEG in the prevention and treatment of the gastrointestinal phenotype of CF.

NEW & NOTEWORTHY A gastrointestinal feature of cystic fibrosis is bile acid malabsorption and consequent impairment of farnesoid X receptor (FXR)-fibroblast growth factor 15 (FGF15) signaling. FXR-FGF15 signaling regulates various metabolic processes and could be implicated in metabolic and gastrointestinal complications of cystic fibrosis, such as diabetes and liver disease. In cystic fibrosis mice, treatment with the osmotic laxative polyethylene glycol is associated with decreased fecal bile acid loss and restoration of FXR-FGF15 signaling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)G404-G411
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology. Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology
Issue number3
Early online date17-Jan-2019
Publication statusPublished - Mar-2019


  • bile acids
  • cystic fibrosis
  • FGF15
  • FXR
  • polyethylene glycol
  • FGF19

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