The aim of this study was to compare human hepatocytes isolated from livers accepted and from livers discarded for transplantation with respect to viability and drug transport function. In addition, the influence of age of the donor and preservation time of the liver on cell viability was determined. Cell viability was assessed by trypan blue exclusion, MTT reduction, morphological integrity and ATP content, and drug transport function by uptake and excretion of taurocholic acid. Hepatocytes could be isolated successfully from livers accepted as well as from livers discarded for transplantation, with a median yield of 5.0 x 10(6) cells/g (range 0.1 to 42.4) and 0.7 x 10(6) cells/g (range 0.0 to 22.7), respectively (not significantly different). These cells were not significantly different with respect to viability and transport rate of taurocholate. Neither the age of the donor nor the duration of liver preservation (6-43 hr in University of Wisconsin solution) significantly influenced cell yield and viability. It is concluded that because of this overlap in cell viability, hepatocytes isolated both from accepted and from discarded livers can in principle be used to investigate drug transport functions in the human liver.