Cryopreservation of human hepatocytes is important for their use in hepatocyte transplantation. On thawing, cryopreserved hepatocytes often have reduced viability and metabolic function in comparison with fresh cells. The aim of this study was to modify the different steps in the standard cryopreservation procedure in an attempt to improve the overall outcome. Human hepatocytes with a viability of 69% +/- SD 16% were isolated from donor livers with a collagenase perfusion technique. Different cell densities, concentrations, rates, and methods of addition of dimethyl sulfoxide were tested for the freezing solution. Modified controlled-rate freezer programs were tested to obtain a linear decrease in the temperature. Once they were frozen, the storage time and thawing method for hepatocytes were investigated. The effects on thawed cell viability and attachment, lactate dehydrogenase release, cytochrome P450 1A1/2 activity, and albumin synthesis were determined. The results were used to produce an improved cryopreservation protocol suitable for good manufacturing practice conditions. With a cell density of 10(7) cells/mL in University of Wisconsin solution containing 300 mM glucose, 10% (vol/vol) dimethyl sulfoxide was added dropwise over 5 minutes, and was immediately frozen. Thawing was done rapidly at 37 degrees C, and dilution was performed with Eagle's minimum essential medium containing 300 mM glucose and 4% human serum albumin. Hepatocytes could be stored at -140 degrees C without significant further loss of function for up to 3 years. With this protocol, hepatocytes had a viability of 52% +/- 9%, an attachment efficiency of 48% +/- 8%, and lactate dehydrogenase leakage of 17% +/- 4%. This protocol is currently in use to cryopreserve hepatocytes for use in cell transplantation at our center.