Several studies have reported that statins occasionally cause impairment of liver functions characterized by elevated serum bilirubin levels, which might be due to altered function of the multidrug resistance-associated proteins (Mrp2/3). We aimed to study the modulation of the hepatobiliary transport of bilirubin by four statin derivatives, atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, and rosuvastatin in sandwich-cultured rat hepatocytes. All statins except pravastatin significantly inhibited the uptake of bilirubin. The biliary efflux of bilirubin conjugates was increased by pravastatin and rosuvastatin concentration dependently. Rosuvastatin stimulated not only the Mrp2 mediated biliary, but the Mrp3 mediated sinusoidal elimination, resulting in decreased intracellular bilirubin accumulation. The significantly induced Mrp2/3 protein levels (ranging from 1.5 to 1.8-fold) accounted for the elevated efflux. Cell polarization, the formation of biliary network was also significantly increased by fluvastatin, pravastatin and rosuvastatin (151%, 216% and 275% of the control, respectively). The simultaneous inhibition of the uptake and the stimulation of the sinusoidal and canalicular elimination may explain, at least in part, the clinical observation of elevated serum bilirubin levels. In conclusion, our results suggest that in spite of the elevated serum bilirubin levels, the altered Mrp2 and Mrp3 functions by statins is probably not associated with hepatotoxic effects.
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