James Boyer, MD, FACEP

Ensign Professor of Medicine (Digestive Diseases); Emeritus Director, Yale Liver Center

Research Departments & Organizations

Internal Medicine: Diabetes Research Center | Digestive Diseases | Liver Center

Office of Cooperative Research

Research Interests

Bile; Cholangitis, Sclerosing; Cholestasis; Digestive System Diseases; Hepatitis; Jaundice; Liver

Research Summary

Our laboratory has a long standing interest in the basic physiology of bile formation and the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying mechanisms of cholestasis. Bile formation is one of the unique functions of the liver and is impaired in many forms of cholestatic liver injury. Our early studies established that the hepatocyte is a polarized secretory cell where transport mechanisms are organized on plasma membrane domains like a classic epithelium (Physiologic Reviews 60:303-326, 1980). This concept has led to the identification and characterization of a number of membrane transport proteins both at the functional level and through molecular cloning techniques that determine the secretion of bile (Physiologic Reviews 83:633-671, 2003). Current studies focus on mechanisms by which bile acids injure the liver in cholestatic liver diseases and determinations of new approaches for therapy of these diseases including the use of biliary organoids and cell lines fro drug discovery. Trainees utilize a variety of fundamental techniques ranging from general cell biologic and molecular biologic procedures to advanced morphologic approaches including fluorescent and confocal scanning microscopy. This research is supported by NIH grants and core facilities provided by an NIH Liver Center.

Specialized Terms: Membrane transport; Bile formation; Cholestasis; Nuclear receptors; Bile acids; Organoids;, exosomes; Membrane targeting; Jaundice; Autoimmune hepatitis; Primary biliary cirrhosis; Sclerosing cholangitis; Hepatic drug toxicity

Extensive Research Description

Dr. Boyer's laboratory has pioneered in establishing the molecular and cellular basis for bile secretory function of the liver. In the late 1970’s, he established that the sodium pump was localized to the basolateral membrane of the hepatocytes. This work placed the hepatocyte as a more typical polarized epithelium and allowed paradigms that were developed in other polarized epithelia to be applied to the liver. For example, this finding allowed Dr. Boyer’s lab to purify canalicular membranes away from the basolateral domain and thus introduce the use of membrane vesicle preparations for studying transport activity. The development of in-vivo models for studying bile secretory functions (the hepatocytes couplet and the isolated bile duct unit) initially from rats and later from mice was also a major technical advance for the field. These models have been widely used by many investigators for the study of hepatobiliary transport function in live cell preparations without the confounding effects of blood flow inherent in intact or isolated perfused rat livers. These models also permit the localization of specific functions to either hepatocytes or cholangiocytes. His laboratory was also the first to demonstrate and annunciate the concept that hepatobiliary transporters undergo adaptive regulation in response to cholestatic liver injury both in liver and in kidney. This is an area of investigation now widely pursued by many laboratories and continues to be a current focus. This work has led to current studies of the role of nuclear receptors in the regulation of transporter expression and a search for novel therapies directed to stimulation of this adaptive response. The impact of this body of work has been recognized by the Adolf Windaus Prize presented by the Falk Foundation in 1988, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterology Association in 1989, the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease in 1998 and the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award from the American Liver Association in 1999. The more recent discovery of a novel heteromeric organic solute transporter, Ostalph-Ost beta in the liver of the marine skate by Dr. Boyer and his colleague, Ned Ballatori has led serendipitoiusly to the finding that this is the missing link the basolateral ideal transporter)in the enterohepatic circulation of bile salts. This important discovery came from work at the Mt Desert Island biological Laboratory in Maine where Dr. Boyer and colleagues have pursued seasonal research using a comparative animal model approach with marine vertebrates for nearly 4 decades. Most recently the finding that retinoids are a potent agonist for both marine elasmobranch and human nuclear receptor FXR has led to a clinical efficacy therapeutic trialing patients with sclerosing cholangitits.

  1. Mechansims of bile acid induced inflammatory injury and the role of innate immunitay in cholestasis
  2. The effect of retinoids and cytokine receptor blockers in an animal model of and patients with sclerosing cholangitis
  3. The role of MIF and CD72 as biomarkers of stress in autoimmune hepatitis
  4. The use of biliary organoids for drug discovery in cholestataic liver diseases
  5. The role of Ost-alpha/beta as a target for treatmetn of cholestasis and in regulation of lipid biosynthesis
  6. Evolution of bile acid transporters in vertebrates

Clinical Trials

Conditions Study Title
Diseases of the Digestive System - Liver Seladelpar in Subjects With Primary Biliary Cholangitis (PBC) and an Inadequate Response to or an Intolerance to Ursodeoxycholic Acid (UDCA)
Diseases of the Digestive System - Liver A 5-year Longitudinal Observational Study of Patients With Primary Biliary Cholangitis
Diseases of the Digestive System - Liver Mindfulness to treat fatigue in patients with PBC
Diseases of the Digestive System - Liver A POC and Dose-Ranging Study of HTD1801 in PSC Patients
Diseases of the Digestive System - Liver An Efficacy Trial of Low Dose All-trans Retinoic Acid in Patients With Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, Immune System, Infectious Diseases Screening In Anticipation of Future Research


  • Bile formation Austria; Switzerland; Germany; Italy; Netherlands; Thailand (2008)

    Dr. Boyer collaborates with numerous researchers on projects related to the cellular and molecular mechanisms of bile formation and mechanisms of liver injury that lead to impairment of this important physiologic process. He has been engaged in this NIH funded work for the past 30 years.

Selected Publications

See list of PubMed publications

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Contact Info

James Boyer, MD, FACEP
Lab Location
The Anlyan Center
300 Cedar Street, Ste S240

New Haven, CT 06519
Office Location
The Anlyan Center
300 Cedar Street, Ste S241

New Haven, CT 06519
Mailing Address
Digestive DiseasesPO Box 208019
333 Cedar Street

New Haven, CT 06520-8019

Curriculum Vitae

Yale Liver Center