Gallbladder motility and cholesterol crystallization in bile from patients with pigment and cholesterol gallstones


Piero Portincasa MD, PhD Semeiotica Medica, Section of Internal Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine and Public Health, University Medical School, Policlinico, Piazza Giulio Cesare 11, 70124 Bari, Italy. Tel.: +39 80 5478227; fax: +39 80 5478232; e-mail:



Little is known about gallbladder motility in patients with black pigment stones when compared to cholesterol gallstone patients, or about their relationship to biliary composition, crystallization and stone characteristics.


Fasting and postprandial gallbladder volumes were studied by ultrasonography in 49 gallstone patients with pigment (n = 14) or cholesterol (n = 35) stones and 30 healthy controls. After cholecystectomy stone composition, gallbladder wall inflammation, cholesterol saturation index and appearance of platelike cholesterol crystals in bile were evaluated in gallstone patients.


Fasting gallbladder volume was significantly (P < 0.05) increased in cholesterol stone patients (31.7 ± 1.9 mL) but not in pigment stone patients (21.9 ± 3.1 mL), compared to controls (21.0 ± 1.5 mL). Postprandial emptying was delayed in patients (half-emptying time: 31 ± 2 min, 35 ± 3 min, 24 ± 2 min in cholesterol stone patients, pigment stone patients and controls, respectively, P < 0.05) and incomplete (residual volume: 43.2 ± 2.7%, 40.0 ± 4.3%, 15.8 ± 1.6% min in cholesterol stone patients, pigment stone patients and controls, respectively, P < 0.05). The inflammation of the gallbladder wall was mild or absent in all cases. Biliary cholesterol saturation index was 152.3 ± 8.5% and 92.9 ± 4.8% in patients with cholesterol and pigment stones, respectively (P < 0.01). Whereas cholesterol crystals never appeared during 21 days in biles from patients with pigment stones, crystal observation time in patients with cholesterol gallstone was 5 days (median) and was significantly shorter in patients with multiple (4 days) than in patients with solitary (12 days) cholesterol stones (P = 0.0019).


Patients with black pigment stones who do not have excess cholesterol and do not grow cholesterol crystals in bile have decreased gallbladder emptying, although to a lesser extent than patients with cholesterol stones. Thus, gallbladder stasis is likely to put a subset of subjects at risk for the formation of pigment gallstones, and pathogenic mechanisms need to be further investigated.