Cholesterol crystallization is a key step in gallstone formation and is influenced by numerous factors. Human bile contains various bile salts having different hydrophobicity and micelle-forming capacities, but the importance of lipid composition to bile metastability remains unclear. This study investigated the effect of bile salts on cholesterol crystallization in model bile (MB) systems. Supersaturated MB systems were prepared with an identical composition on a molar basis (taurocholate/phosphatidylcholine/cholesterol, 152 mM:38 mM: 24 mM), except for partial replacement of taurocholate (10, 20, and 30%) with various taurine-conjugated bile salts. Cholesterol crystallization was quantitatively estimated by spectrophotometrically measuring crystal-related turbidity and morphologically scanned by video-enhanced microscopy. After partial replacement of taurocholate with hydrophobic bile salts, cholesterol crystallization increased dose-dependently without changing the size of vesicles or crystal morphology and the rank order of crystallization was deoxycholate > chenodeoxycholate > cholate (control MB). All of the hydrophilic bile salts (ursodeoxycholate, ursocholate and β-muricholate) inhibited cholesterol precipitation by forming a stable liquid-crystal phase, and there were no significant differences among the hydrophilic bile-salt species. Cholesterol crystallization was markedly altered by partial replacement of bile salts with a different hydrophobicity. Thus minimal changes in bile-salt composition may dramatically alter bile lipid metastability.

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