This study was undertaken to examine the influence of time and volume of collagen overlay, type of media, and media additives on taurocholate (TC) accumulation and biliary excretion in hepatocytes cultured in a collagen-sandwich configuration. Hepatocytes were isolated from male Wistar rats by in situ perfusion with collagenase, seeded onto collagen-coated 60-mm dishes, overlaid with gelled collagen, and cultured for 4 d. Experiments to examine the influence of time and volume of collagen overlay were conducted in Dulbecco's modified Eagle's medium (DMEM) + 1.0 microM dexamethasone (DEX) + 5% fetal bovine serum (FBS). Hepatocytes were overlaid at 0 h with 0.1 or 0.2 ml collagen, or at 24 h with 0.1 or 0.2 ml collagen. The influence of media type and additives was examined in hepatocytes overlaid at 0 h with 0.2 ml collagen and incubated in DMEM + 0.1 microM DEX, DMEM +/- 0.1 microM DEX + 5% FBS, Williams' medium E + 0.1 microM DEX + 1% ITS+, DMEM + 1.0 microM DEX, DMEM + 1.0 microM DEX + 5% FBS, or modified Chee's medium (MCM) + 0.1 microM DEX + 1% ITS+. [3H] TC accumulation by hepatocytes in Hank's balanced salt solution (HBSS) and Ca2+-free HBSS was measured, and the biliary-exeretion index (BEI: percentage of accumulated TC localized in the canalicular compartment) was calculated. Light microscopy and carboxydichlorofluorescein fluorescence were employed to examine the cellular and canalicular morphologies. The volume of collagen used for both the substratum and the overlay did not affect TC accumulation or biliary excretion. The BEI tended to be higher in cells overlaid at 24 h (BEI = 0.649 [0.1 ml collagen]; BEI = 0.659 [0.2 ml collagen]) compared with those overlaid at 0 h after seeding (BEI = 0.538 [0.1 ml collagen]; BEI = 0.517 [0.2 ml collagen]), although the differences were not statistically significant. Hepatocytes cultured in MCM produced consistently the lowest BEI of TC (BEI = 0.396). Differing DEX concentrations (0.1 microM versus 1.0 microM) with or without 5% FBS did not appear to have a significant effect on the BEI of TC.