Melatonin regulation of biliary functions
The intrahepatic biliary epithelium is a three-dimensional tubular system lined by cholangiocytes, epithelial cells that in addition to modify ductal bile are also the targets of vanishing bile duct syndromes (i.e., cholangiopathies) such as primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) that are characterized by the damage/proliferation of cholangiocytes. Cholangiocyte proliferation is critical for the maintenance of the biliary mass and secretory function during the pathogenesis of cholangiopathies. Proliferating cholangiocytes serve as a neuroendocrine compartment during the progression of cholangiopathies, and as such secrete and respond to hormones, neurotransmitters and neuropeptides contributing to the autocrine and paracrine pathways that regulate biliary homeostasis. The focus of this review is to summarize the recent findings related to the role of melatonin in the modulation of biliary functions and liver damage in response to a number of insults. We first provide a general background on the general function of cholangiocytes including their anatomic characteristics, their innervation and vascularization as well the role of these cells on secretory and proliferation events. After a background on the synthesis and regulation of melatonin and its role on the maintenance of circadian rhythm, we will describe the specific effects of melatonin on biliary functions and liver damage. After a summary of the topics discussed, we provide a paragraph on the future perspectives related to melatonin and liver functions.