The present study was undertaken to define the conditions for optimal cryopreservation of hepatocytes. Two different freezing procedures were analyzed: a slow freezing rate (SFR) (-2 degrees C/min down to -30 degrees C and then quick freezing to -196 degrees C) and a fast freezing rate (FFR) (direct freezing of tubes to -196 degrees C: -39 degrees C/min). Cells were frozen in fetal bovine serum containing 10% Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO). After rapid thawing at 37 degrees C, followed by dilution and removal of the cryoprotectant, cells were plated and several parameters were followed as criteria for optimal cryopreservation of cells. The FFR cells showed no apparent ultrastructural damage after 24 h of culture. Plating efficiency and spreading were similar as controls. Gluconeogenesis from pyruvate and fructose, tyrosine amino transferase induction by glucagon and dexamethasone, urea production, and plasma protein synthesis of FFR cells were similar to those found in control cultures. The FFR procedure, in comparison to the SFR method, seemed to render the best preserved hepatocytes.