In vitro testing of human liver for biotransformation or xenobiotic metabolism studies has been limited by unpredictable acquisition of samples. Consequently, it has become necessary to consider methods to cryopreserve and store these samples whenever they do become available for culture of the revived tissue at a more convenient time. Human liver slices were cryopreserved by vitrification, which allows for the transfer of aqueous media to low temperatures (-196 degrees C) without the formation of ice crystals. Human liver slices were exposed to increasing concentrations of 1,2-propanediol up to a final concentration of 4.76 M in fetal calf serum. Slices were then vitrified by direct immersion into liquid nitrogen and warmed by submersion in 37 degrees C fetal calf serum. Warming was done either immediately or after 4 and 8 weeks of storage under liquid nitrogen. The effects of vitrification, storage time, and warming on biotransformation were determined by assessing the integrated metabolism of 7-ethoxycoumarin (7-EC). Vitrified or fresh human liver slices were exposed to 50 microM 7-EC and its primary metabolite 7-hydroxycoumarin (7-HC) in organ culture for up to 6 hr. Metabolite production of both fresh and vitrified liver slices was compared. Retention of the inherent biotransformation rate was usually high and seemed independent of storage time. Integration of both cytochrome P450-mediated and secondary conjugation processes was retained in cryopreserved tissue. Vitrification offers a way to cryopreserve human liver slices for the study of xenobiotic metabolism in humans.