Hydrophobic bile acids have been shown to be hepatotoxic, whereas treatment with ursodeoxycholic acid, a hydrophilic bile acid, has improved liver function indices in patients with chronic liver disease. Taurine administration has also been suggested to be useful for chronic hepatitis, taurine-conjugated bile acids being more hydrophilic than glycine-conjugated bile acids. To determine if taurine and ursodeoxycholic acid are beneficial and if their effects are additive, a double-blind, randomized trial was designed comparing the effects of ursodeoxycholic acid, taurine, and a combination of the two on indices of liver injury in 24 patients with chronic hepatitis. They were assigned at random to two of the four following treatments: ursodeoxycholic acid (600 mg/day), taurine (1.5 g/day), ursodeoxycholic acid plus taurine (600 mg + 1.5 g/day) or placebo, given in two successive cycles of 2 mo each, according to a balanced incomplete-block design. Ursodeoxycholic acid became the predominant biliary bile acid when administered alone or in combination with taurine, and taurine conjugate levels increased during taurine administration. Ursodeoxycholic acid reduced aspartate aminotransferase (35%), alanine aminotransferase (33%), and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (41%), whereas taurine alone did not. The addition of taurine to ursodeoxycholic acid produced only minor changes in the effects of ursodeoxycholic acid alone. Results were confirmed by the administration of ursodeoxycholic acid, in a successive open phase of the study, to the entire patient population, which was large enough for different subsets of patients to be compared. Serum bile acids were measured at entry and during the open phase: primary bile acids did not change, whereas ursodeoxycholic acid levels increased from trace amounts to very high levels, especially in patients with more severe histological disease. It is concluded that ursodeoxycholic acid, but not taurine, improves enzymatic indices of liver injury in chronic hepatitis.