Most cholesterol gallstones have visually pigmented centers, but it is unclear whether this represents simple co-precipitation of pigment with cholesterol during stone nidation or nidation on a true pigment stone center. To clarify this issue, we selected from among 67 sets of cholesterol gallstones, 12 sets with the most conspicuously pigmented centers. The composition of the centers and the peripheries of these 12 stones was analyzed using infrared spectroscopy and compared with that of 10 black pigment gallstones. The pigmented centers of cholesterol stones contained 80.1 ± 7.9% (mean ± S.E.) cholesterol, 6.2 ± 3.4% calcium bilirubinate (only 4 of the 12 centers had measurable calcium bilirubinate), trace amounts of calcium phosphate and no calcium carbonate or calcium palmitate. The peripheral areas of the cholesterol stones contained 91.6 ± 2.3% cholesterol and no detectable calcium salts. For comparison, the composition of the centers of 10 black pigment gallstones was 13.5 ± 2.2% cholesterol, 28.2 ± 5.3% calcium bilirubinate, 5.5 ± 2.4% calcium phosphate and 10.6 ± 5.8% calcium carbonate. The composition of only one cholesterol stone center (15.8% cholesterol, 26.8% calcium bilirubinate) resembled that of a pigment stone, but even this center differed from that of a typical pigment stone in that it contained only a trace amount of calcium phosphate and no calcium carbonate. Thus, the chemical composition of pigmented centers of cholesterol gallstones is quantitatively different from that of black pigment stones, suggesting that cholesterol gallstones do not form on a pigment stone nidus.