To determine the potential role of orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT) in cirrhotic patients surviving a first episode of spontaneous bacterial peritonitis (SBP), medical records of 79 patients presenting with a first episode of SBP were reviewed. Of these patients, 37 were selected as potential candidates for OLT using the following criteria: absence of hepatocellular carcinoma; no severe organ failure other than the liver; age < or = 66 years; and survival after SBP > 60 days. Survival time was calculated from the day of SBP diagnosis. Prognostic value of clinical, biological and bacteriological data recorded at the time of SBP was determined using univariate and multivariate analysis (Cox's regression model). Survival rate of the potential candidates for OLT at 3 months, 1 year and 2 years was 94, 46 and 30% respectively. Serum creatinine value (P = 0.001) and Pugh score (P = 0.005) were independently correlated with death. The 1 year survival rate was 80% for the 11 patients with a Pugh score < 10, and 26% for the 26 patients with a Pugh score > or = 10. Our results suggest that after SBP, OLT should be considered in patients with severe liver disease. Survival of patients with a moderate liver disease (i.e. Pugh score < 10) might be relatively high.