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Keywords:

  • Cholesterol concentration difference;
  • cholesterol gallstones;
  • cholesterol saturation index;
  • crystal observation time;
  • mucin;
  • protein

Background Associations between the polymorphism of apolipoprotein E, which plays an important role in cholesterol metabolism and cholesterol gallstone formation, have been reported recently. Patients with the apo E4 isoform showed increased numbers and cholesterol contents of their stones, a higher frequency of cholesterol crystals in bile, increased susceptibility to gallstone fragmentation by extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy and an increase in recurrence rate after dissolution. A recent study, however, showed that fast cholesterol crystallization in bile is associated with multiple stones but not with apo E4. Therefore the mechanism for an increased risk of gallstone formation in patients with the apo E4 isoform still remains under debate.

Design To clarify this issue we investigated 37 patients with gallstones (10 with the apo E4 allele and 27 without the allele). Gallbladder biles were examined for total cholesterol and other lipids, cholesterol saturation index, crystal observation time, crystal mass, total protein and mucin. Moreover, number of gallstones and cholesterol in gallstones was compared in both groups.

Results The crystal observation time (2·5 vs. 2·0 days, median) and the cholesterol saturation index (1·34 ± 0·45 vs. 1·43 ± 0·74) did not differ significantly between the apo E4 and the non apo E4 group. Total biliary lipids (11·6 ± 3·8 vs. 9·3 ± 3·9 g 100 mL−1, P = 0·126) and total biliary cholesterol (21·8 ± 9·7 vs. 15·7 ± 7 mmol L−1, P = 0·067) tended to be elevated in the apo E4 group. Crystal mass (3·60 ± 4·10 vs. 2·38 ± 2·70 mmol L−1), biliary total protein (8·6 ± 3·5 vs. 8·3 ± 6·6 mg mL−1) and mucin (0·55 ± 0·38 vs. 0·66 ± 0·67 mg mL−1), number (solitary/multiple) of gallstones and cholesterol in gallstones were not different in both groups of patients.

Conclusions In comparison to the non apo E4 patients the apo E4 group showed a trend to elevated biliary cholesterol whereas crystal observation time, cholesterol saturation index, crystal mass, number of gallstones, cholesterol content of gallstones and total protein and mucin were not different. These findings do not suggest an association of the apo E isoform and the formation of cholesterol gallstones