Imaging supramolecular aggregates in bile models and human bile

Alon Kaplun, Fred M. Konikoff, Arie Eitan, Moshe Rubin, Ayelet Vilan, Dov Lichtenberg, Tuvia Gilat, Yeshayahu Talmon

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22 Scopus citations


Investigation of cholesterol crystallization is essential for the understanding of gallstone formation. Previous work has revealed a variety of aggregates of different sizes and shapes prior to the appearance of 'classical' plate-like cholesterol monohydrate crystals both in native biles and model systems. In this article, we review existing data based on various microscopic techniques and present data on microstructural pathways leading to cholesterol crystal formation in two different bile models and in native bile. In continuation of our recent investigation of the microstructures in nucleating human bile, we now present data suggesting that polymorphism is not limited to complex native bile, but also appears in two, simplified model systems. These studies employed cryo-transmission electron microscopy (cryo- TEM) and video-enhanced light microscopy, using Nomarski optics (VELM). Only the combined use of these two complementary, non-perturbing direct methods can cover the whole range of microstructures ranging from a few nanometers to several microns. Concentrated isotropic solutions of bile models, composed of cholesterol, lecithin and taurocholate, were diluted to induce cholesterol supersaturation and start an evolution of microstructures, leading to cholesterol crystallization. Initially, small spheroidal micelles were observed by cryo-TEM. Subsequently, uni-, oligo- and multilamellar vesicles, compatible with structures seen at the same time by VELM, appeared in coexistence with micelles. Thereafter, during a dynamic phase of cholesterol crystallization, filaments, tubular and helical microstructures, as well as classical plate-like cholesterol monohydrate crystals were noted by light microscopy. Eventually, large plate-like crystals were observed by VELM, while cryo-TEM revealed only small spheroidal micelles. The crystallization process in native human bile during ex vivo incubation was found to bear close resemblance to the findings in the model systems, further supporting the applicability of these systems to the exploration of microstructural aspects of nucleating human bile.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-96
Number of pages12
JournalMicroscopy Research and Technique
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Oct 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Bile
  • Cholesterol
  • Cryo- TEM
  • Crystallization
  • Gallstone formation
  • Micelle
  • Vesicle


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