The therapeutic effects of ursodeoxycholic acid as an anti-apoptotic agent

C. M.P. Rodrigues, C. J. Steer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


The dihydroxy bile acid, ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA), has been in widespread clinical use in the Western world since the mid 1980s, when it was initially used for gallstone dissolution [1,2] and subsequently for the treatment of chronic cholestatic liver diseases [3,4]. Many clinical trials of UDCA in a variety of cholestatic disorders established biochemical and clinical improvements, and most importantly showed a significant prolongation of transplant-free survival after four years of treatment with UDCA in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis [5]. Despite its clinical efficacy, the precise mechanism(s) by which UDCA improves liver function during cholestasis is still a matter of debate [6]. It was initially considered that the choleretic effect of UDCA, coupled with its ability to cause a marked shift in the composition of the bile acid pool towards hydrophilicity, accounted for its mechanism of action. In recent years, however, it has become evident that UDCA and its conjugated derivatives are capable of exerting direct effects at the cellular, subcellular, and molecular levels by stabilising cell membranes, affecting signal transduction pathways, and regulating immune responses. In addition, we have shown that UDCA plays a unique role in modulating the apoptotic threshold in both hepatic and non-hepatic cells [7-10]. The purpose of this article is to examine the mechanism(s) by which UDCA prevents apoptotic cell death associated with cholestasis. In addition, we will also review a potentially novel and, heretofore, unrecognised role of UDCA as a therapeutic agent in the treatment of non-liver diseases associated with increased levels of apoptosis as a pathogenesis of the disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1243-1253
Number of pages11
JournalExpert Opinion on Investigational Drugs
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 24 2001


  • Bile acids
  • Cholestasis
  • Hepatoprotection
  • Mitochondrial pathway of apoptosis
  • Neuroprotection


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