The liver is the primary organ involved in handling of bile salts, a class of amphipathic molecules with signaling activities as well as desired and detrimental detergent actions. To allow in-depth investigation of functions of bile salts in healthy and diseased liver, the spatial distribution of bile salt species within the liver needs to be studied. Therefore, the aim of our study was to determine hepatic bile salt distribution and identify specific lipid markers that define the structural elements of the liver. Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-mass spectrometry imaging (MALDI-MSI) was used to monitor the spatial distribution of bile salts and lipids in liver sections of rat, dog, and patients with unaffected and cholestatic parenchyma. MALDI-MSI in negative ion mode showed the local presence of a variety of bile salts, predominantly taurine-conjugates, as localized patches of varying sizes (representing the bile ducts) throughout the liver tissue. Specific molecular markers were identified for the connective tissue (phosphatidic acids, e.g., [PA (18:0-18:1)-H]-), the liver parenchyma (phosphatidylinositols, e.g., [PI (18:0-20:4)-H]-), and the bile ducts (hydroxylated-sulfatides, e.g., [ST-OH (18:1-24:0)-H]-). One of these sulfatides (at m/z 906.6339) was found to be uniquely localized in a thin lining on the inside of the bile duct, colocalized with cytokeratins, and encased luminal bile salts. A similar distribution of the aforementioned sulfatide was observed, albeit in constricted ductular structures, in the liver of a patient with a mild clinical phenotype of primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC). In contrast, sulfatides were virtually absent in the liver of patients with PSC and a severe clinical phenotype, with (atypical) cholanoids (e.g., the bile alcohol 5-cyprinolsulfate) abundant in the extra-ductular space and glyco(cheno)deoxycholic acid-3-sulfate localized to fibrotic connective tissue. The latter two molecular species were able to discriminate between healthy liver tissue (n = 3) and tissue from PSC patients with a severe clinical phenotype (n = 3). In conclusion, the distinct structural elements of the mammalian liver are characterized by specific classes of lipids. We propose that (hydroxylated-)sulfatides are specific molecular markers of the bile duct.

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Journal Analytical Chemistry
Flinders, B. (Bryn), Huizing, L.R.S. (Lennart R. S.), Van Heerden, M. (Marjolein), Cuyckens, F. (Filip), Neumann, U, van der Laan, L.J.W, … Vreeken, R. (2018). Cross-Species Molecular Imaging of Bile Salts and Lipids in Liver: Identification of Molecular Structural Markers in Health and Disease. Analytical Chemistry. doi:10.1021/acs.analchem.8b01378