Excess membrane cholesterol alters human gallbladder muscle contractility and membrane fluidity

Gastroenterology. 1999 Mar;116(3):678-85. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(99)70190-3.


Background & aims: The relationship between muscle contractility, plasma membrane cholesterol, and fluidity was investigated in human gallbladders with gallstones.

Methods: Isolated gallbladder muscle cells were used to measure contraction. Plasma membranes of gallbladder muscle were purified in a sucrose gradient and measured for cholesterol content and cholesterol/phospholipid mole ratio. Membrane fluidity was determined by using fluorescence polarization and was expressed as the reciprocal of anisotropy.

Results: The maximal contraction induced by cholecystokinin octapeptide was significantly less in gallbladders with cholesterol stones than in those with pigment stones. The membrane cholesterol content and cholesterol/phospholipid mole ratio were significantly higher in gallbladders with cholesterol stones than in those with pigment stones. Membrane anisotropy was also higher than in gallbladders with pigment stones, reflecting lower membrane fluidity in gallbladders with cholesterol stones. After muscle cells from cholesterol stone gallbladders were incubated with cholesterol-free liposomes for 4 hours, cholecystokinin octapeptide-induced contraction, membrane cholesterol content and cholesterol/phospholipid ratio, and membrane fluidity returned to normal levels.

Conclusions: Gallbladder muscle from patients with cholesterol stones has increased membrane cholesterol/phospholipid mole ratio and decreased membrane fluidity resulting in impaired muscle contractility. These abnormalities are corrected by removing the excess cholesterol from the plasma membranes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cell Membrane / chemistry
  • Cell Membrane / physiology
  • Cholecystectomy, Laparoscopic
  • Cholelithiasis / physiopathology*
  • Cholesterol / analysis
  • Cholesterol / physiology*
  • Fluorescence Polarization
  • Gallbladder / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Liposomes
  • Membrane Fluidity*
  • Membrane Lipids / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology*
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiopathology*
  • Phospholipids / analysis


  • Liposomes
  • Membrane Lipids
  • Phospholipids
  • Cholesterol