Behavior of various cholesterol crystals in bile from patients with gallstones



Besides classical plate-like cholesterol monohydrate crystals, a variety of crystal shapes have recently been described in model biles but their relevance for human gallstone formation is unknown. We therefore studied crystallization behavior in gallbladder bile from cholesterol stone patients (54 untreated, 13 ursodeoxycholate-treated) and 6 pigment stone patients. Bile preparation by ultrafiltration or ultracentrifugation left biliary lipid composition unchanged but plates and their aggregates, and arcs and needles crystallized more extensively while spirals and tubules crystallized less extensively in ultra-centrifuged bile than in ultrafiltered bile. Plates, aggregates, and arcs/needles were seen in 90%, 36%, and 18% of the cases respectively of fresh unfiltered biles of untreated cholesterol stone patients, while spirals and tubules were always absent. In ultrafiltered biles arcs/needles, plates and aggregates progressively developed as persistent forms. Spirals and tubules occurred transiently and were associated with increased deoxycholic acid (+41%, P = .039) and with more extensive cholesterol crystallization. Rate/extent of crystallization of all crystal forms was higher (P < .0001) for multiple than solitary cholesterol stone patients. Ursodeoxycholate-treated patients had atypical platelike cholesterol crystals in fresh unfiltered biles that decreased in size at prolonged observation and in 2 cases even dissolved after 15 and 20 days. No crystals ever developed in ultra-filtered bile of ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA)-treated patients during 21 days. Pigment stone patients seldom developed crystals. Thus, plates, aggregates and arcs/needles are persistent forms with high crystallization rate in multiple cholesterol stone patients. Tubules and spirals are transient forms that are associated with more extensive crystallization. Patients treated with ursodeoxycholate often have atypical crystals in their fresh bile.