Administration of the non-metabolizable organic anion indocyanine green (ICG) prior to a toxic dose of acetaminophen (4-acetamidophenol; APAP) reduces liver injury 24h after dosing. ICG also produces a dose-dependent decrease in bile flow in mice and rats. Studies in bile duct-cannulated rats suggest that cholestasis can play a role in this protection. This study was conducted to determine if the ability of model organic anions to produce cholestasis is relevant to the protection against APAP hepatotoxicity afforded by ICG. In these studies, overnight fasted male CD-1 mice were dosed (i.v.) with the cholestatic dyes bromcresol green (BCG, 30 micromol/kg) and rose bengal (RB, 60 micromol/kg) immediately prior APAP administration (500 mg/kg, i.p.). Other groups of mice received the non-cholestatic dyes dibromosulphthalein (DBSP, 150 micromol/kg) and amaranth (AM, 300 micromol/kg) prior to APAP. Controls were given vehicle only. Hepatocellular necrosis was evident at 24 h in control mice receiving APAP. Pretreatment with the cholestatic dyes BCG and RB decreased the severity of hepatocellular necrosis induced by APAP. However, administration of the non-cholestatic dyes DBSP and AM did not alter APAP-induced liver damage. Glutathione replenishment was not altered by pretreatment with any of these dyes. Furthermore, ICG protected mice against carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) hepatotoxicity. Since CCl4 undergoes minimal biliary excretion and does not compete for biliary transport function, this finding supports the notion that cholestasis itself rather than competition for canalicular transporters is central to the hepatoprotection by ICG and other cholephilic dyes.