Functions of the Gallbladder

Compr Physiol. 2016 Jun 13;6(3):1549-77. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c150050.


The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile between meals. Gallbladder motor function is regulated by bile acids via the membrane bile acid receptor, TGR5, and by neurohormonal signals linked to digestion, for example, cholecystokinin and FGF15/19 intestinal hormones, which trigger gallbladder emptying and refilling, respectively. The cycle of gallbladder filling and emptying controls the flow of bile into the intestine and thereby the enterohepatic circulation of bile acids. The gallbladder also largely contributes to the regulation of bile composition by unique absorptive and secretory capacities. The gallbladder epithelium secretes bicarbonate and mucins, which both provide cytoprotection against bile acids. The reversal of fluid transport from absorption to secretion occurs together with bicarbonate secretion after feeding, predominantly in response to an adenosine 3',5'-cyclic monophosphate (cAMP)-dependent pathway triggered by neurohormonal factors, such as vasoactive intestinal peptide. Mucin secretion in the gallbladder is stimulated predominantly by calcium-dependent pathways that are activated by ATP present in bile, and bile acids. The gallbladder epithelium has the capacity to absorb cholesterol and provides a cholecystohepatic shunt pathway for bile acids. Changes in gallbladder motor function not only can contribute to gallstone disease, but also subserve protective functions in multiple pathological settings through the sequestration of bile acids and changes in the bile acid composition. Cholecystectomy increases the enterohepatic recirculation rates of bile acids leading to metabolic effects and an increased risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and small-intestine carcinoid, independently of cholelithiasis. Among subjects with gallstones, cholecystectomy remains a priority in those at risk of gallbladder cancer, while others could benefit from gallbladder-preserving strategies. © 2016 American Physiological Society. Compr Physiol 6:1549-1577, 2016.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bile Acids and Salts / metabolism
  • Cholecystectomy
  • Gallbladder / anatomy & histology
  • Gallbladder / metabolism
  • Gallbladder / physiology*
  • Gallbladder / surgery
  • Gallbladder Diseases / physiopathology
  • Gallbladder Diseases / surgery
  • Gallbladder Emptying / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology
  • Mucins / metabolism
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle, Smooth / physiology


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Mucins