• Bile salts;
  • cholesterol;
  • crystallization;
  • cholesterol saturation index;
  • crystallization pathways;
  • phospholipids


Background  In model biles, cholesterol crystallization (an important factor in gallstone formation) mainly depends on phospholipid/bile salt ratios with characteristic sequences of plate-like (monohydrate) vs. non-plate-like (presumed anhydrous: arcs, needles, tubules, spirals) cholesterol crystals (Wang, J Lipid Res 1996; 37: 606). We now investigate whether the same phenomenon occurs in human bile.

Methods  Appearances of plate-like and non-plate-like cholesterol crystals were determined in filtered bile of 80 cholesterol gallstone patients, and related to biliary lipid and pro-nucleating protein composition.

Results  Non-plate-like crystals appeared before plate-like crystals in 9 biles, on the same day in 24 biles, and after plate-like crystals in 31 biles. In 16 biles only plate-like crystals were observed. Crystal sequences did not depend on biliary lipid or protein composition. Cholesterol saturation indexes were higher in biles with than without non-plate-like crystals (150 ± 6 vs. 125 ± 12, P = 0·02). In contrast, phospholipid/(bile salt + phospholipid) ratios, bile salt species, phospholipid classes, concentrations of mucin, IgG, IgM, IgA, haptoglobin and α-1 acid glycoprotein did not differ.

Conclusions  Cholesterol crystallization sequences in human bile depend on cholesterol saturation index rather than on phospholipid/bile salt ratio.