We have developed an extremely rapid and efficient reverse-phase h.p.l.c. method for the measurement of bilirubin and its conjugates in human bile and in model bile systems. Our method involves the use of a Perkin-Elmer 3 mu C18 column and a methanol/sodium acetate/aq. ammonium acetate buffer system. Three isomers of bilirubin diglucuronide (BDG), two isomers of bilirubin monoglucuronide (BMG), three isomers of unconjugated bilirubin (UCB) and minor conjugates containing glucose and xylose were separated in 12 min. Initial quantification of BDG and BMG was based on the use of the ethyl anthranilate azo derivative of bilirubin (AZO UCB); however, the standard curves for BDG, BMG and UCB were similar enough to permit quantification to be later based on the UCB standard curve only, thereby simplifying the quantification process. Routine direct injection of 6 or 10 microliter of crude undiluted or diluted (1:1) bile sample was sufficient for analysis. The method was helpful in diagnosing biliary-tract obstruction in a newborn and a partial deficiency state of bilirubin conjugation (Crigler-Najjar syndrome) in a 10-year-old male. When the method was applied to biles of patients both with and without gallstones, levels of UCB were less than 2% of total pigment, consistent with previous reports. Because of its speed and efficiency, this method has the potential for a broad range of applications including enzymic, kinetic and bile sample analyses.

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