, Volume 11, Issue 8, pp 977-984
Date: 02 Jun 2007

Gallstones Containing Bacteria are Biofilms: Bacterial Slime Production and Ability to Form Pigment Solids Determines Infection Severity and Bacteremia

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Gallstone bacteria provide a reservoir for biliary infections. Slime production facilitates adherence, whereas β-glucuronidase and phospholipase generate colonization surface. These factors facilitate gallstone formation, but their influence on infection severity is unknown.


Two hundred ninety-two patients were studied. Gallstones, bile, and blood (as applicable) were cultured. Bacteria were tested for β-glucuronidase/phospholipase production and quantitative slime production. Infection severity was correlated with bacterial factors.


Bacteria were present in 43% of cases, 13% with bacteremia. Severe infections correlated directly with β-glucuronidase/phospholipase (55% with vs 13% without, P < 0.0001), but inversely with slime production (55 vs 8%, slime <75 or >75, P = 0.008). Low slime production and β-glucuronidase/phospholipase production were additive: Severe infections were present in 76% with both, but 10% with either or none (P < 0.0001). β-Glucuronidase/phospholipase production facilitated bactibilia (86% with vs 62% without, P = 0.03). Slime production was 19 (±8) vs 50 (±10) for bacteria that did or did not cause bacteremia (P = 0.004). No bacteria with slime >75 demonstrated bacteremia.


Bacteria-laden gallstones are biofilms whose characteristics influence illness severity. Factors creating colonization surface (β-glucuronidase/phospholipase) facilitated bacteremia and severe infections; but abundant slime production, while facilitating colonization, inhibited detachment and cholangiovenous reflux. This shows how properties of the gallstone biofilm determine the severity of the associated illness.

Presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract, held May 20–24, 2006 in Los Angeles, California.