Our laboratory has been routinely using suspended and cultured human hepatocytes for predicting drug metabolism and enzyme induction by drug candidates to aid drug discovery. Increasing limitation and irregular availability of human tissue has indicated the need for maximizing the use of this valuable resource. Cryopreservation of surplus hepatocytes after isolation would greatly increase the potential of this model. However, cryopreservation of hepatocytes by various methods has resulted in cells with poor metabolic activity and unacceptably low survival rates in culture. Recently, Zaleski et al. (Biochem. Pharmacol. 46 (1993) 111-116) reported that cryopreserved rat hepatocytes retained metabolic capacity similar to fresh hepatocytes when the cells were preincubated for 30 min at 37 degrees C in Krebs Ringer bicarbonate buffer prior to freezing. To further explore this methodology, both the functional capacity of the cells in culture as well as their ability to retain CYP inducibility were investigated with thawed cryopreserved hepatocytes. Although human hepatocytes were used in this study the initial work focused on rat hepatocytes as a cell model. Our results showed that while the preincubation step did not appear to effect the initial viability of cryopreserved hepatocytes, survival of the cells in culture was greatly enhanced. Plating efficiencies for nonpreincubated cryopreserved hepatocytes were decreased to approximately 15% of fresh cells after 48 h in culture. In contrast, cells that had been preincubated prior to freezing had an excellent plating efficiency (approximately 60%) and responded to classical CYP inducers dexamethasone, beta-naphthoflavone and phenobarbital in a manner indistinguishable from that of fresh hepatocytes. Experiments with human hepatocytes have also demonstrated similar results. This is the first time to our knowledge that cryopreserved hepatocytes from both rat and human have been shown to reproducibly respond to CYP inducers in culture.