Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) treatment can reduce itch and lower endogenous serum bile acids in intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP). We sought to determine how it could influence the gut environment in ICP to alter enterohepatic signalling. The gut microbiota and bile acid content were determined in faeces from 35 pregnant women (14 with uncomplicated pregnancies and 21 with ICP, 17 receiving UDCA). Faecal bile salt hydrolase activity was measured using a precipitation assay. Serum fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19) and 7α-hydroxy-4-cholesten-3-one (C4) concentrations were measured following a standardised diet for 21 hours. Women with a high ratio of Bacteroidetes to Firmicutes were more likely to be treated with UDCA (Fisher’s exact test p = 0.0178) than those with a lower ratio. Bile salt hydrolase activity was reduced in women with low Bacteroidetes:Firmicutes. Women taking UDCA had higher faecal lithocholic acid (p < 0.0001), with more unconjugated bile acids than women with untreated ICP or uncomplicated pregnancy. UDCA-treatment increased serum FGF19, and reduced C4 (reflecting lower bile acid synthesis). During ICP, UDCA treatment can be associated with enrichment of the gut microbiota with Bacteroidetes. These demonstrate high bile salt hydrolase activity, which deconjugates bile acids enabling secondary modification to FXR agonists, enhancing enterohepatic feedback via FGF19.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3895
Number of pages10
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date3 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2020


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