We studied the mechanism of gallbladder sludge formation in guinea pigs (n = 30) treated with lincomycin (80 mg/kg/day) for 7 consecutive days. At sacrifice (day 8) gallbladders of treated animals contained turbid bile, sludge and in one animal a single gallstone. The precipitates were amorphous on X-ray diffraction. Infra-red spectroscopy revealed calcium phosphate as the major component. Compared to saline-treated controls (n = 15) concentrations of total protein, total phosphate and total bilirubin in gallbladder bile were significantly increased (P less than 0.05). The increase in total phosphate was due to the inorganic component, since phospholipid phosphorus was unchanged. The relative amounts of unconjugated bilirubin and of bilirubin mono- and diconjugates in gallbladder bile were unaffected by treatment as was beta-glucuronidase activity. However, sludge was enriched in unconjugated bilirubin compared to gallbladder bile. This was most probably caused by alkaline hydrolysis of bilirubin monoconjugates. To some extent, disproportionation of bilirubin monoconjugates in bile or sludge, either in vivo or during sample preparation, might also have led to increased unconjugated pigment.