1. Plasma lathosterol concentration, known to reflect cholesterol and bile acid synthesis, was evaluated as a screening test for bile acid malabsorption, comparing it with faecal bile acid measurements, SeHCAT test and Schilling test in 22 subjects of whom six were healthy controls and 16 had Crohn's disease with ileal resections of varying length.

2. Plasma lathosterols and other non-cholesterol sterols were determined by GLC. Faecal bile acids were measured by GLC, and SeHCAT retention times by gamma camera. The study subjects were divided into two groups according to the degree of bile acid malabsorption: controls (faecal bile acids<10 mg day−1 kg−1, n = 9) and bile acid malabsorption (faecal bile acids > 10 mg day−1 kg−1, n = 13).

3. Faecal bile acid excretion was 5.9 ± 1.0 mg day−1 kg−1 in control subjects and 45.7 ± 6.1 mg day−1 kg−1 in the bile acid malabsorption group. The biological half-life of 75SeHCAT (T½) was 95.6 ± 16.3 h and 14.1 ± 4.1 h, respectively. Plasma lathosterol levels were significantly elevated in patients with bile acid malabsorption (742 ± 84 μg/ml compared with 400 ± 59 μg/ml in control subjects) and correlated closely with faecal bile acid levels (r = 0.779, P<0.001), with 75SeHCAT T½ (r = −0.524, P<0.05) and with Schilling test (r = −0.591, P<0.05). Significant correlations were also obtained for Δ8-cholestenol with faecal bile acids (r = 0.784, P<0.001) and 75SeHCAT (r = −0.505, P<0.05). The biological half-life of SeHCAT correlated with faecal bile acid excretion (r = −0.702, P<0.01). Using mean + 2 SD of lathosterol (In μg/ml cholesterol) as a cut-off value and 10 mg day−1 kg−1 as the upper limit for faecal bile acid excretion, the test gives 100% sensitivity and 82% specificity for plasma lathosterol determination to detect bile acid malabsorption.

4. The results indicate that both the 75SeHCAT test and plasma lathosterol detect bile acid malabsorption in patients with ileal resections for Crohn's disease. However, plasma lathosterol is a simpler and less expensive method.

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