Relationship between biliary and serum bile acids and response to ursodeoxycholic acid in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis

Am J Gastroenterol. 1998 Sep;93(9):1498-504. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.1998.00470.x.


Objective: Ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) improves liver biochemistries and enriches the bile with UDCA in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis. The aim of this study was to determine whether the degree of enrichment of bile correlated with that of serum and whether either of these measures correlated with improvement in measures of liver disease.

Methods: In a randomized study, biliary and serum bile acid analyses were performed at entry and after 2 yr of UDCA or placebo.

Results: The percentage of ursodeoxycholic acid in bile increased by 42% in the UDCA group (n = 61) compared with 8% in the placebo group (n = 57) (p < 0.0001). Measurement of serum bile acids in 32 patients (18 ursodeoxycholic acid, 14 placebo) indicated that at 2 yr, ursodeoxycholic acid comprised 65% of serum bile acids in the treated group and 7% in the placebo group. Agreement between bile and serum was fair (r = 0.75, p < or = 0.00002) because in some patients, plasma but not biliary bile acids were enriched with UDCA. Changes in biliary ursodeoxycholic acid correlated significantly but weakly with the changes in serum alkaline phosphatase, AST, bilirubin, and in Mayo risk score. Correlations between changes in serum bile acid composition and biochemical measures of disease activity were even weaker.

Conclusion: The measurement of biliary bile acids is superior to that of serum bile acids for assessing the compliance and changes in the circulating bile acids in patients receiving ursodeoxycholic acid for the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis. Furthermore, measures to further increase the proportion of ursodeoxycholic acid in circulating bile acids should be explored.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Bile / metabolism*
  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid / metabolism
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / blood
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / metabolism*
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics / therapeutic use
  • Cholic Acids / metabolism
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / metabolism*
  • Patient Compliance
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / blood
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / metabolism*
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid / therapeutic use


  • Bile Acids and Salts
  • Cholagogues and Choleretics
  • Cholic Acids
  • Chenodeoxycholic Acid
  • Ursodeoxycholic Acid