There is no established model of regenerative liver resection in the baboon, and no study comparing the circulating hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) response with the DNA synthetic response after liver resection. A mean 20% partial hepatectomy (PH) was performed in 19 baboons and a sham operation comprising liver mobilisation only was performed in 20 baboons. Blood HGF levels were measured up to 5 days after either procedure, using the human HGF enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kit (Otsuka, Japan). The white cell count (WCC), aspartate transaminase (AST) and bilirubin were also measured. Liver regeneration, reflected by an increase in DNA synthesis, was determined from serial liver biopsies in 23 baboons, using a tritiated thymidine assay of liver thymidine kinase (TK). Liver resection and WCC had a significant influence on circulating HGF levels. There was a linear relationship between WCC and circulating HGF levels, which was independent of PH. For a constant value of WCC, resection produced a peaking of HGF over time, with the maximal levels occurring between 2 and 3 days, compared with the linear response in HGF in sham-operated baboons. Liver damage, as reflected by AST levels, was found to have no significant influence on circulating HGF levels. The 20% PH produced a significant increase in liver TK, with maximum levels evident between 2 and 4 days. Accordingly in this baboon model of PH the increase in biologically active, circulating HGF preceded the increase in liver DNA synthesis over 5 days. This observation supports the role of HGF in hepatocyte proliferation and as an initiator of liver regeneration, and suggests that further investigation into the potential endocrine action of HGF could be studied in this established liver regenerative primate model.