Liver blood flow and hepatic uptake of some indicator substances have been reported to fall with age in both rats and humans. We used an isolated liver system, which was perfused in one pass with hemoglobin free buffer, to investigate the effect of albumin concentration, buffer flow rate, and age upon hepatic clearance of the dye, indocyanine green. We measured the half-life of a bolus of indocyanine green given intravenously to male Sprague-Dawley rats aged 10 and 24 months and then examined its clearance in vitro using their isolated perfused livers. After perfusion, the livers were homogenized and separated into subcellular fractions. The mean liver weight declined significantly (young, 19.7 +/- 2.9 g vs. old, 13.9 +/- 2.6 g; p less than 0.02). In vivo the indocyanine green clearance was reduced in the aged rats (3.2 +/- 1.0 vs. 5.1 +/- 1.7 mL/min; p less than 0.05). In the isolated perfused liver system, extraction ratio showed an inverse curvilinear correlation with albumin concentration and buffer flow rate, but did not differ with age. Hepatic protein content and dye subcellular localization did not differ between the two groups. In conclusion, the fall in indocyanine green clearance in vivo is not paralleled by the ability of the organs to extract the dye in vitro, and likely reflects a decline in hepatic mass and blood flow.