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David P Sonne

During the last decades, it has become clear that the gastrointestinal tract plays a pivotal role in the regulation of glucose homeostasis. More than 40 hormones originate from the gastrointestinal tract and several of these impact glucose metabolism and appetite regulation. An astonishing example of the gut’s integrative role in glucose metabolism originates from investigations into bile acid biology. From primary animal studies, it has become clear that bile acids should no longer be labelled as simple detergents necessary for lipid digestion and absorption but should also be recognised as metabolic regulators implicated in lipid, glucose and energy metabolism. The nuclear farnesoid X receptor (FXR) is a part of an exquisite bile acid-sensing system that among other things ensures the optimal size of the bile acid pool. In addition, intestinal and hepatic FXR also impact the regulation of several metabolic processes such as glucose and lipid metabolism. Accordingly, natural and synthetic FXR agonists and certain FXR-regulated factors (i.e. fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19)) are increasingly being evaluated as treatments for metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (and its inflammatory version, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). Interestingly, decreased FXR activation also benefits glucose metabolism. This can be obtained by reducing bile acid absorption using bile acid sequestering agents (approved for the treatment of type 2 diabetes) or inhibitors of intestinal bile acid transporters,that is the apical sodium-dependent bile acid transporter (ASBT). This article discusses recent clinical trials that provide insights about the role of FXR-FGF19-targetted therapy for the treatment of metabolic diseases.

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David P Sonne, Morten Hansen, and Filip K Knop

Bile acid sequestrants have been used for decades for the treatment of hypercholesterolaemia. Sequestering of bile acids in the intestinal lumen interrupts enterohepatic recirculation of bile acids, which initiate feedback mechanisms on the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids in the liver, thereby lowering cholesterol concentrations in the circulation. In the early 1990s, it was observed that bile acid sequestrants improved glycaemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. Subsequently, several studies confirmed the finding and recently – despite elusive mechanisms of action – bile acid sequestrants have been approved in the USA for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Nowadays, bile acids are no longer labelled as simple detergents necessary for lipid digestion and absorption, but are increasingly recognised as metabolic regulators. They are potent hormones, work as signalling molecules on nuclear receptors and G protein-coupled receptors and trigger a myriad of signalling pathways in many target organs. The most described and well-known receptors activated by bile acids are the farnesoid X receptor (nuclear receptor) and the G protein-coupled cell membrane receptor TGR5. Besides controlling bile acid metabolism, these receptors are implicated in lipid, glucose and energy metabolism. Interestingly, activation of TGR5 on enteroendocrine L cells has been suggested to affect secretion of incretin hormones, particularly glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1 (GCG)). This review discusses the role of bile acid sequestrants in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, the possible mechanism of action and the role of bile acid-induced secretion of GLP1 via activation of TGR5.

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David P Sonne, Jens F Rehfeld, Jens J Holst, Tina Vilsbøll, and Filip K Knop


Recent preclinical work has suggested that postprandial flow of bile acids into the small intestine potentiates nutrient-induced glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP1) secretion via bile acid-induced activation of the G protein-coupled receptor TGR5 in intestinal L cells. The notion of bile-induced GLP1 secretion combined with the findings of reduced postprandial gallbladder emptying in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) led us to speculate whether reduced postprandial GLP1 responses in some patients with T2DM arise as a consequence of diabetic gallbladder dysmotility.

Design and methods

In a randomised design, 15 patients with long-standing T2DM and 15 healthy age-, gender- and BMI-matched control subjects were studied during 75-g oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) and three isocaloric (500 kcal) and isovolaemic (350 ml) liquid meals: i) 2.5 g fat, 107 g carbohydrate and 13 g protein; ii) 10 g fat, 93 g carbohydrate and 11 g protein; and iii) 40 g fat, 32 g carbohydrate and 3 g protein. Basal and postprandial plasma concentrations of glucose, insulin, C-peptide, glucagon, GLP1, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide (GIP), cholecystokinin and gastrin were measured. Furthermore, gallbladder emptying and gastric emptying were examined.


Gallbladder emptying increased with increasing meal fat content, but no intergroup differences were demonstrated. GIP and GLP1 responses were comparable among the groups with GIP levels being higher following high-fat meals, whereas GLP1 secretion was similar after both OGTT and meals.


In conclusion, patients with T2DM exhibited normal gallbladder emptying to meals with a wide range of fat content. Incretin responses were similar to that in controls, and an association with postprandial gallbladder contraction could not be demonstrated.