1. Cholesterol monohydrate crystal formation was measured quantitatively in model bile solutions, which were supersaturated with cholesterol, by a radiochemical method and qualitatively in human gallbladder bile by polarizing microscopy.
2. Various agents, which have been postulated to act as nucleating factors for cholesterol crystal and gallstone formation, were added to bile and their effect on the appearance of cholesterol crystals was determined. These agents included calcium salts found in gallstones (calcite, aragonite, apatite, bilirubinate), Escherichia coli bacteria, pigment residues from cholesterol gallstones, bilirubin and several mucin preparations.
3. Human gallbladder bile, which was collected from patients with and without cholesterol gallstones, was also mixed with model bile to examine whether nucleating or anti-nucleating factors were present.
4. None of the agents tested markedly and consistently promoted cholesterol monohydrate crystal formation in model or human bile, except seed crystals of cholesterol monohydrate which were used as a control. Human gallbladder bile from obese patients without gallstones delayed the appearance of cholesterol crystals in model bile solutions, whereas gallbladder bile from gallstone patients did not.
5. These results do not provide experimental support for the hypothesis that calcium salts and pigment material found in gallstones, or gallbladder mucin at concentrations less than 10 mg/ml, act as nucleating agents for cholesterol crystal and stone formation. The difference between gallbladder biles from patients with and without gallstones in their propensity to form cholesterol crystals may be due to the presence of an anti-nucleating factor in normal bile.