The use of primary hepatocytes is now well established for both studies of drug metabolism and enzyme induction. Cryopreservation of primary hepatocytes decreases the need for fresh liver tissue. This is especially important for research with human hepatocytes because availability of human liver tissue is limited. In this review, we summarize our research on optimization and validation of cryopreservation techniques. The critical elements for successful cryopreservation of hepatocytes are (1) the freezing protocol, (2) the concentration of the cryoprotectant [10% dimethyl-sulfoxide (DMSO)], (3) slow addition and removal of DMSO, (4) carbogen equilibration during isolation of hepatocytes and before cryopreservation, and (5) removal of unvital hepatocytes by Percoll centrifugation after thawing. Hepatocytes of human, monkey, dog, rat, and mouse isolated and cryopreserved by our standard procedure have a viability > or = 80%. Metabolic capacity of cryopreserved hepatocytes determined by testosterone hydroxylation, 7-ethoxyresorufin-O-de-ethylase (EROD), 7-ethoxycoumarin-O-deethylase (ECOD), glutathione S-transferase, UDP-glucuronosyl transferase, sulfotransferase, and epoxide hydrolase activities is > or = 60% of freshly isolated cells. Cryopreserved hepatocytes in suspension were successfully applied in short-term metabolism studies and as a metabolizing system in mutagenicity investigations. For instance, the complex pattern of benzo[a]pyrene metabolites including phase II metabolites formed by freshly isolated and cryopreserved hepatocytes was almost identical. For the study of enzyme induction, a longer time period and therefore cryopreserved hepatocyte cultures are required. We present a technique with cryopreserved hepatocytes that allows the induction of testosterone metabolism with similar induction factors as for fresh cultures. However, enzyme activities of induced hepatocytes and solvent controls were smaller in the cryopreserved cells. In conclusion, cryopreserved hepatocytes held in suspension can be recommended for short-term metabolism or toxicity studies. Systems with cryopreserved hepatocyte cultures that could be applied for studies of enzyme induction are already in a state allowing practical application, but may be further optimized.