Decrypted: This is how gallstones and urinary stones are created

Decrypted: This is how gallstones and urinary stones are created

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This is how gallstones, urinary stones or kidney stones develop

Around six million people in Germany suffer from gallstones. The unpopular stones cause painful cramps, increase the risk of life-threatening infections in the abdomen and are among the ten most common reasons for hospital stays. However, it was still unclear how gallstones are formed. A German research team has now revealed this secret.

Researchers at the Friedrich Alexander University in Erlangen-Nuremberg have unraveled the formation of gallstones through unconventional study work. They examined gallstones from museums, slaughterhouses and operations using the latest techniques for their components and discovered an unusual component: traces of special white blood cells. This discovery sparked the idea of ​​how the gallstones are formed. The research work was recently presented in the specialist journal “Immunity”.

What do white blood cells have to do with gallstones?

Neutrophil granulocytes are a special type of white blood cell. These cells are the first form of defense against bacteria and pathogens. In addition to bacteria and viruses, the granulocytes also see crystals in the body as a potential threat. So also the calcium and cholesterol crystals from which gallstones can form. However, when trying to remove these crystals, the granulocytes fail and die. They spread their genetic material over the crystals like a net. The genetic remains and the crystals form clumps that continue to grow and can take on surprisingly large dimensions. The researchers call this form of networking neutrophil extracellular traps (NET).

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Can gallstones be prevented?

"The production of gallstones can be greatly reduced or even stopped if the formation of these nets is inhibited by medication," explains Dr. Luis Munoz, one of the research leaders from the study team. This opens up previously unknown possibilities for the treatment of gallstones.

Hypertension remedy for gallstones

According to the study, a simple pharmacological approach is the beta blocker metoprolol, which has been used for the treatment of high blood pressure for many years. The active ingredient prevents neutrophil granulocytes from entering the tissue from the blood supply. As a result, the capacities available to form the neutrophil extracellular traps are also limited.

Results can be applied to all stones in the body

Another approach is the use of so-called PAD inhibitors, which specifically prevent NET formation. The research team emphasizes that these findings concern not only gallstones, but all stones that can form in the body, for example urinary stones or kidney stones. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Luis E. Muñoz, Sebastian Boeltz, Rostyslav Bilyy, u.a .: Neutrophil Extracellular Traps Initiate Gallstone Formation, Immunity, 2019,

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