The activity of glutathione transferase was measured in sonicates of fresh rat hepatocytes and of cryopreserved rat, human and dog hepatocytes in the presence of added glutathione and by using 1-chloro-2,4-dinitrobenzene (CDNB) as non-selective substrate. The glutathione-conjugating capacity was also investigated in the presence of CDNB alone (without glutathione) with intact fresh rat hepatocytes and cryopreserved rat and human hepatocytes. Finally, the intracellular level of glutathione was measured in these hepatocytes. The specific activity of glutathione transferase in sonicates of fresh rat hepatocytes (in the presence of added GSH and CDNB) was about 415 nmol/min/10(6) cells. The corresponding activities in cryopreserved rat, human and dog hepatocytes were approximately 320, 440 and 540 nmol/min/10(6) cells, respectively. In contrast, glutathione conjugation by the intact cryopreserved human and rat hepatocytes in the presence of CDNB alone was less than 10% of the corresponding conjugation by fresh rat hepatocytes, indicating that glutathione was depleted in these cryopreserved hepatocytes. Glutathione depletion was confirmed after analytical measurement of the glutathione levels in fresh and cryopreserved hepatocytes. In fresh rat hepatocytes the level of glutathione was 44 nmol/10(6) cells, whereas it was 2.5 and 4.4 nmol/10(6) cells in cryopreserved rat and human hepatocytes, respectively. In summary, glutathione transferase was active in these cryopreserved hepatocytes but the cryopreservation procedure likely causes depletion in the intracellular level of glutathione, resulting in an overall reduced glutathione conjugating capacity.