Cholestasis refers to a medical condition in which the liver is not capable of secreting bile. The consequent accumulation of toxic bile components in the liver leads to liver failure. Cholestasis can be caused by mutations in genes that code for proteins involved in bile secretion. Recently mutations in other genes have been discovered in patients with cholestasis of unknown origin. Interestingly, many of these newly discovered genes code for proteins that regulate the intracellular distribution of other proteins, including those involved in bile secretion. This group of genes thus suggests the deregulated intracellular distribution of bile-secreting proteins as an important but still poorly understood mechanism that underlies cholestasis. To expedite a better understanding of this mechanism, we have reviewed these genes and their mutations and we discuss these in the context of cholestasis.
Intrahepatic cholestasis is characterized by the accumulation of compounds in the serum that are normally secreted by hepatocytes into the bile. Genes associated with familial intrahepatic cholestasis (FIC) include ATP8B1 (FIC1), ABCB11 (FIC2), ABCB4 (FIC3), TJP2 (FIC4), NR1H4 (FIC5) and MYO5B (FIC6). With advanced genome sequencing methodologies, additional mutated genes are rapidly identified in patients presenting with idiopathic FIC. Notably, several of these genes, VPS33B, VIPAS39, SCYL1, and AP1S1, together with MYO5B, are functionally associated with recycling endosomes and/or the Golgi apparatus. These are components of a complex process that controls the sorting and trafficking of proteins, including those involved in bile secretion. These gene variants therefore suggest that defects in intracellular trafficking take a prominent place in FIC. Here we review these FIC-associated trafficking genes and their variants, their contribution to biliary transporter and canalicular protein trafficking, and, when perturbed, to cholestatic liver disease. Published variants for each of these genes have been summarized in table format, providing a convenient reference for those who work in the intrahepatic cholestasis field.