Impaired human gallbladder lipid absorption in cholesterol gallstone disease and its effect on cholesterol solubility in bile

Gastroenterology. 2000 May;118(5):912-20. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(00)70177-6.


Background & aims: The role of the gallbladder in gallstone pathogenesis is still unclear. We examined the effects of gallbladder mucosal lipid absorption on lipid composition and cholesterol crystallization in bile.

Methods: The in vitro-isolated, intra-arterially perfused gallbladder model was used (1) to compare the absorption rates of lipids from standard bile by gallbladders obtained from 7 patients with cholesterol gallstones and 6 controls; and (2) to measure the microscopic cholesterol crystal detection time in cholesterol-enriched pig bile before and after lipid absorption by the pig gallbladder.

Results: Control gallbladders, but not cholesterol gallstone gallbladders, significantly reduced cholesterol (P < 0.02) and phospholipid (P < 0.01) and increased bile salt (P < 0.01) molar percentages in bile over a 5-hour period by efficient and selective cholesterol and phospholipid absorption. A histomorphometric study of the epithelial cells showed significantly higher values for nuclear density (P < 0.01) and nuclear (P < 0.05) and cytoplasmic (P < 0.05) areas in the cholesterol gallstone than the control group. Sequential microscopy of cholesterol-enriched pig bile showed significantly shorter cholesterol filament (P < 0.01) and typical cholesterol plate (P < 0. 02) detection times before than after exposure of bile to the gallbladder lipid absorption.

Conclusions: In cholesterol gallstone disease, the human gallbladder epithelium loses its capacity to selectively and efficiently absorb cholesterol and phospholipids from bile, even if it is hyperplastic and hypertrophic. This epithelial dysfunction eliminates the positive effect that the normal gallbladder exerts on cholesterol solubility in bile and might be a pathogenetic cofactor for cholesterol gallstone formation.

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Animals
  • Bile / chemistry
  • Bile / metabolism*
  • Cholelithiasis / chemistry
  • Cholelithiasis / metabolism*
  • Cholelithiasis / pathology
  • Cholesterol / chemistry
  • Cholesterol / metabolism*
  • Epithelial Cells / pathology
  • Epithelial Cells / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Gallbladder / metabolism*
  • Gallbladder / pathology
  • Gallbladder / ultrastructure
  • Guinea Pigs
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism
  • Phosphatidylcholines / metabolism


  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Cholesterol