This study was undertaken to determine the effect of various lipid emulsions on the hepato-biliary system in rats. Rats were randomly divided into six groups and infused continuously for 48 hr with either long-chain triglycerides (LCT), medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) or a mixture of MCT and LCT. One group infused with physiological saline solution served as controls. Throughout this period the rats received a fat free diet ad libitum. During the last hour of lipid infusion bile was collected for determination of bile flow and composition. Subsequently, the rats were sacrificed and the morphology and lipid content of the liver determined. Only LCT lipid emulsions induced morphological changes and increased liver cholesterol content. In two rats infused with radiolabeled LCT, no labeled cholesterol was found in the liver, indicating that the excess hepatic cholesterol level may originate from enhanced cholesterol mobilization to the liver. Biliary cholesterol and phospholipid concentrations in LCT-treated rats were also elevated, as was the lithogenic index, whereas the other emulsions had no such effects. None of the emulsions affected the plasma liver function tests or bile flow. We therefore conclude that the lithogenicity of the bile in rats is directly related to the lipid components of the total parenteral nutrition and the type of triglyceride infused.