Lithocholic acid and its taurine, glycine, and sulfate derivatives are potent cholestatic agents. Lithocholate glucuronide is present in the plasma and urine of patients with cholestatic syndromes, but little is known of its metabolism, excretion, and cholestatic potential. [3 beta-3H]lithocholate 3-O-beta-D-glucuronide was synthesized, and chemical and radiochemical purity were established. The aqueous solubility of lithocholate glucuronide was determined and found to be greater than that of lithocholic acid or several of its derivatives. In the range of concentrations examined, calcium ions precipitated lithocholate glucuronide stoichiometrically. The material was administered to rats prepared with an external biliary fistula. When 17-25 micrograms quantities were administered, 89.1 +/- 4.5% (mean +/- SEM) of the radiolabel was secreted in bile within the first 20 h after administration, the major fraction being secreted in less than 20 min. Four-fifths of the radiolabeled material in bile was the administered unaltered parent compound, while a minor fraction consisted of a more polar derivative(s). We showed that increasing biliary concentrations of more polar derivatives were observed with milligram doses of [3H]lithocholate glucuronide, and with time after the administration of these loading doses. Milligram doses of [3H]lithocholate glucuronide resulted in partial or complete cholestasis. When induced cholestasis was partial, secretion in bile remained the primary excretory route (82.5-105.6% recovery in bile), while, when complete cholestasis was induced, wide tissue distribution of radiolabel was observed. Cholestasis developed rapidly during infusion of [3H]lithocholate glucuronide. Bile flow was diminished within 10-20 min of the start of an infusion of 0.05 mumol, 100 g-1 body weight, minute-1, administered concomitantly with an equimolar infusion of taurocholate. The results establish that lithocholate glucuronide exerts cholestatic effects comparable to those exerted by unconjugated lithocholic acid.