A biopsy study of 60 allografts from 53 patients after orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) revealed prominent centrilobular necrosis (CN) in 18% of the grafts that were suitable for analysis. The lesions often had a "punched-out" appearance, sometimes with unusual features such as giant cell formation. Persistent CN developed 4 weeks to 6 months after OLT, and persisted in two cases for 2 years and longer. In some instances, CN disappeared or healed by scarring. We found no association between CN and rejection arteritis or arteriopathy. Ductopenic (chronic) rejection subsequently occurred in six of eight livers with CN. Overall, patients with persistent CN had a worse prognosis than control patients. A comparison of cases with matched controls failed to reveal significant differences with respect to perioperative factors such as ischemia time, immunologic test results such as lymphocyte crossmatches, drug administration--in particular, of azathioprine, frequency of cellular (acute) rejection or infection episodes, or frequency of complications affecting major hepatic vessels or bile ducts. Morphologic evidence suggests that in some instances, rejection-induced endotheliitis/phlebitis of hepatic vein branches may lead to sinusoidal outflow blockage, sinusoidal dilatation, and dropout of hepatic cell plates. Although potentially reversible conditions such as ischemia or adverse drug reactions are among the possible causes of CN, severe rejection leading to ductopenia appears to be the most important underlying condition. Thus, presence of CN in repeated biopsy specimens from allografts should be considered a warning sign of irreversible rejection.