1. Intravenous doses of bilirubin (3.4 μmol/kg) were given to normal subjects and patients with Gilbert's syndrome. Both groups displayed an identical initial disappearance of a substantial proportion of the bilirubin but, late in time, the Gilbert's patients exhibited reduced clearance with a sustained elevation of the plasma bilirubin and no reflux into the plasma space of conjugated bilirubin. Increasing the dose in normal subjects (by factors of 3 and 6) failed to reproduce the response found in the Gilbert's patients.
2. In the bile-containing duodenal aspirates of Gilbert's patients the average proportion of bilirubin found as bilirubin diglucuronide was 68% (normal 88%) and of bilirubin monoglucuronide, 23% (normal 7%). Both differences were significant at the P < 0.001 level. In the Gilbert's patients restriction of caloric intake to 1569 kJ/day for 2 days characteristically raised the serum bilirubin with no modification of the biliary pigment pattern; phenobarbital (180 mg/day for 2 weeks) decreased the plasma bilirubin to the normal range with, concomitantly, a reversion of the biliary pigment pattern towards normal.
3. We conclude that there is no hepatic uptake defect in Gilbert's syndrome but that there is decreased activity in the conjugation process underlying the addition of the second glucuronic acid moiety to bilirubin, to form bilirubin diglucuronide.