The intrahepatic biliary epithelium is a target of the growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor 1 axis.
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BACKGROUND/AIMS: We evaluated the role and mechanisms by which the GH/IGF1 axis modulates cholangiocyte proliferation. METHODS: GH-receptors (GH-R), IGF1, IGFBP3 (binding protein 3), IGF1-R and receptor substrates (IRS) were evaluated in cholangiocytes of normal or bile duct-ligated (BDL) rat livers. The effects of GH and IGF1 on proliferation of normal quiescent cholangiocytes and the transduction pathways involved were investigated. RESULTS: IGF1, GH-R, IGF1-R, IRS-1/2 were expressed in normal cholangiocytes and overexpressed in cholangiocytes proliferating after BDL which also secrete IGF1 in a higher amount than normal cells. IGFBP3, which may counter-regulate IGF1 effects, was decreased in BDL cholangiocytes. IGF1 promoted cholangiocyte proliferation in association with overexpression of p-IGF1R, IRS1, IRS-2, p-ERK1/2 and p-AKT. GH induced IGF1 expression and release in isolated cholangiocytes, and reproduced the effects of IGF1 but GH effects were abolished by IGF1-R blocking antibody, suggesting IGF1 as a mediator of GH. Finally, IGF1 and 17beta-estradiol reciprocally potentiated their proliferative effects on cholangiocytes, and by interacting at both receptor and post-receptor levels. CONCLUSIONS: Cholangiocytes respond to GH with production and release of IGF1 that modulates cell proliferation by transduction pathways involving IGF1-R, IRS1/2 and both ERK and PI3-kinase pathways. The biliary epithelium is a target of GH/IGF1 liver axis.