Research ArticleBiliary Atresia

Identification of a plant isoflavonoid that causes biliary atresia

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Science Translational Medicine  06 May 2015:
Vol. 7, Issue 286, pp. 286ra67
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa1652

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Fishing for a toxin

Biliary atresia is a childhood disease of unknown etiology, which causes rapid destruction of the biliary tree. Lorent et al. used a naturally occurring outbreak of biliary atresia in Australian lambs to discover that one cause of this disease may be a plant toxin. During a period of drought, the pregnant ewes’ diet included unusual species of plants growing on land that is normally covered by water. The researchers tested extracts from these plants in a zebrafish model and identified a compound that caused biliary atresia–like changes in the fish as well as in mammalian cells. Although these plants are not eaten by humans, the findings suggest that plant toxins may contribute to the development of biliary atresia in people as well.