Cholesterol crystallization in bile is affected by phosphatidylcholine (PtdCho) hydrophobicity. The aim of the present study was to determine whether PtdCho species modulate the metastable—labile limit and equilibrium solubility of cholesterol in the micellar phase of bile, thereby altering the distribution of cholesterol to biliary lipid carriers and thus influencing cholesterol crystallization. Supersaturated model bile (with a cholesterol saturation index of 2.0 and a total lipid concentration of 10g/dl) was prepared with various PtdCho/(bile salt+PtdCho) ratios (0.1–0.5) using egg yolk or soya bean PtdCho. Subsequently, the following features were determined: metastable—labile limit, equilibrium solubility of cholesterol, metastable zone, and cholesterol crystallization process. Less hydrophobic PtdCho species destabilized bile cholesterol to induce rapid crystallization, because of a broad integrated metastable zone, whereas more hydrophobic species stabilized bile cholesterol with a less integrated metastable zone and thus retarded cholesterol crystallization. Cholesterol crystallization was accelerated by a decrease in the PtdCho/(bile salt+PtdCho) ratio, whereas the final nucleated crystal mass was increased by an increase in this ratio. With decreasing hydrophobicity of the PtdCho species, the intermixed micellar/vesicular concentration of bile salts decreased in association with less formation of vesicles and increased formation of micelles, and a variety of crystal forms were detected. In conclusion, PtdCho species directly influenced the cholesterol crystallization process in model bile by remodelling the bile mesophase, and also had an indirect influence by altering the balance between bile salt micelles and vesicles.

Abbreviations used: CCG, cholesterol crystal growth; CGR, crystal growth rate; FCM, final crystal mass; IMC, intermixed micellar/vesicular concentration; PtdCho, phosphatidylcholine; VCC, vesicle and cholesterol crystal.

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