Bile salts are the major end-metabolites of cholesterol and are important in lipid digestion and shaping of the gut microflora. There have been limited studies of bile-salt variation in birds. The purpose of our study was to determine bile-salt variation among bird taxa and relate this variation to current avian phylogenies and hypotheses on the evolution of bile-salt pathways. We determined the biliary bile-salt composition of 405 phylogenetically diverse bird species, including 7 paleognath species. Bile-salt profiles were generally stable within bird families. Complex bile-salt profiles were more common in omnivores and herbivores than in carnivores. The structural variation of bile salts in birds is extensive and comparable to that seen in surveys of bile salts in reptiles and mammals. Birds produce many of the bile salts found throughout nonavian vertebrates and some previously uncharacterized bile salts. One difference between birds and other vertebrates is extensive hydroxylation of carbon-16 of bile salts in bird species. Comparison of our data set of bird bile salts with that of other vertebrates, especially reptiles, allowed us to infer evolutionary changes in the bile-salt synthetic pathway.
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Vol. 127 • No. 4