The proteins of 46 human bile specimens, collected by several different routes have been studied by crossed immunoelectrophoresis, by rocket immunoelectrophoresis and by radioimmunoassay. The results were analysed by plotting the variation in the bile: plasma ratio of particular proteins against molecular weight and by examination of the correlation between the concentrations of different proteins in the biles of different patients. Our results show that the majority of human bile proteins derive from plasma although bile specific proteins are always present. The majority of plasma proteins appear to enter bile by a 'sieving' mechanism which results in an inverse relationship between the bile: plasma ratio and the molecular weight. In addition there was a very high degree of correlation between the biliary concentrations of alpha 2-macroglobulin, IgG, haptoglobin, haemopexin, albumin, prealbumin, and orosomucoid. A number of other proteins namely thyroxine binding globulin, GC globulin and alpha 2HS-glycoprotein appeared in bile at concentrations greater than those expected if entry is by the sieving mechanism. These three proteins, however, are of rather low molecular weight and the reason for the lack of correlation appears to be individual variation in the 'pore size', presumably reflecting variation in the porosity of tight junction between hepatocytes. Although the majority of human bile proteins would appear to enter bile by a molecular weight-dependent pathway, four proteins, namely secretory IgA, IgM, haemoglobin and caeruloplasmin, showed significant deviation from the predicted relationship and probably enter bile at least partly by transport across cells. The concentration of beta 2-glycoprotein I was also much greater than expected from its molecular weight. The reason for this is not yet clear but may well reflect a very efficient and specific transport mechanism.
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