Until now little is known about the functional integrity of human hepatocytes after hypothermic storage. In order to address this limitation, we evaluated several commercially available hypothermic preservation media for their abilities to protect freshly isolated hepatocytes during prolonged cold storage. Human hepatocytes were isolated from non-transplantable/rejected donor livers and resuspended in ice-cold University of Wisconsin solution (UW), HypoThermosol-Base (HTS-Base), or HypoThermosol-FRS (HTS-FRS) with or without the addition of fetal bovine serum. Cells were stored at 4 degrees C for 24-72 h, and evaluated for hepatocyte viability (trypan blue exclusion, or labeling with fluorochromes), cell attachment, and function. The energy status of hepatocytes was evaluated by measurement of intracellular adenosine 5'-triphosphate. To determine whether the test cells expressed metabolic functions of freshly isolated cells, the activities of major phase I (cytochromes P450, FMO) and phase II (UGT, ST) drug-metabolizing enzymes were examined. Although hepatocytes are shown to be satisfactory after 24 h storage in all of the tested solutions, the cell viability, energy status, and xenobiotic metabolism following cold preservation in HTS-FRS was consistently and, in some cases, markedly higher when compared with other systems. The same metabolites for each of the tested substrates were detected in all groups of cells. Moreover, the use of HTS-FRS eliminates the need for serum in preservation solutions. HTS-FRS represents an improved solution compared to HTS-Base and UW for extending the shipping/storage time of human hepatocytes.