Patients with primary biliary cirrhosis have a higher prevalence of gallstone disease. Aim of this study was to determine whether gallbladder bile of these patients is lithogenic. We studied 11 patients with early stage primary biliary cirrhosis, and compared them with 16 control subjects. We combined a cholescintigraphic method with nasoduodenal bile sampling to measure the mass of lipids within the gallbladder. Cholesterol saturation index, as measured by standard techniques, was similar in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis and controls (medians: 0.85 vs 0.90). Primary biliary cirrhosis patients showed a significant reduction in the masses of cholesterol, phospholipids and bile acids, as well as in percent biliary deoxycholic acid, as measured by high pressure liquid chromatography (medians 8.6% vs 17.4% in controls; p < 0.05). Percent deoxycholic acid directly correlated with cholesterol mass in all subjects (r = 0.48; p < 0.05). Biliary lipid coupling were similar in the two groups. We conclude that, in patients with early stage primary biliary cirrhosis, gallbladder bile is not lithogenic and biliary lipid coupling is normal, due to a parallel reduction in the masses of cholesterol, phospholipids and bile acids. The significant reduction in percent deoxycholic acid, characteristic of cholestasis, may help explain this biliary lipid mass pattern, that differs from that of cholesterol gallstone patients.