More than 80% of patients with cystic fibrosis have poor pancreatic function, and have large daily faecal bile acid losses. This has been postulated to lower luminal bile acid concentrations and adversely affect fat absorption. We studied, for the first time, quantitative individual conjugated duodenal bile acid secretion rates into the duodenum during cholecystokinin/secretin infusion in 55 cystic fibrosis patients and six controls, using a quantitative non-absorbable marker technique. We were able to show adequate duodenal total bile acid concentrations and normal secretion rates in these children. The bile acid secretion pattern in cystic fibrosis patients showed a marked increase in bile acid concentration during cholecystokinin/secretin infusion, to levels which were above the critical micellar concentration indicating that the gall bladder is a functional organ in this disease. The subsequent fall in secretion rate was similar to controls. We have documented a significantly raised glycine/taurine bile acid conjugation ration in duodenal juice from cystic fibrosis patients and suggest that the combined effects of lowered ileal pH and increased glycine conjugated proportion of bile acids may cause precipitation of bile acids leading to decreased fat absorption and large faecal bile acid losses. To further investigate bile acid secretion in children with cystic fibrosis, we modified the high performance thin layer chromatography/densitometry method to enable measurement of individual glycine and taurine conjugates in serum. In comparing cystic fibrosis patients and controls, we were able to determine a group of 18 (36%) with bile acid evidence of liver damage who also showed reduced bile acid secretion into the duodenum. We were unable to study changes in serum bile acids during cholecystokinin/secretin infusion because of the high level of bile acid contamination in Boots Secretin. Some patients showed raised fasting serum bile acid concentrations more than two years before changes in conventional liver function tests or clinically evident liver disease. We have shown fasting serum bile acids to be a sensitive measure of liver dysfunction in cystic fibrosis and postulate that raised proportions of glycine conjugated bile acids may be responsible for the high incidence of liver disease in cystic fibrosis.
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