Gallbladder motility was evaluated by ultrasonography in 75 cholesterol gallstone patients and in 77 matched control subjects. All 75 gallstone patients were candidates for oral bile acid therapy (radiolucent gallstones, less than 2 cm in diameter, in well-opacified gallbladder), and 38 of them were also studied during ursodeoxycholic acid administration. An additional 20 gallstone patients were studied 1 year after confirmed gallstone dissolution with oral bile acids. Gallstone patients showed significantly greater fasting and residual volumes, a decreased percent of gallbladder emptying, but a similar absolute emptying and emptying rate compared with the control subjects. Greater fasting volumes and reduced percents of gallbladder emptying were also found in gallstone-free patients who achieved complete dissolution with oral bile acids. After ursodeoxycholic acid administration, fasting gallbladder volumes were greater, and percents of gallbladder emptying were further decreased than in untreated gallstone patients. In conclusion, greater fasting volumes, and not reduced gallbladder contractility, account for the defective gallbladder function in radiolucent (cholesterol-rich) gallstone patients. This condition is likely to precede, and possibly to promote, gallstone formation because it persists after gallstone dissolution. Ursodeoxycholic acid administration worsens the defect observed in gallstone patients. This finding also suggests, although indirectly, that the expected normalization of cholesterol saturation during oral bile acid administration is not paralleled by an improvement in gallbladder function.