1. Primary cultures of human hepatocytes have already been employed in various applications for the study of xenobiotic metabolism. Most of these approaches were performed either on freshly isolated cells or on short-term primary cultures. Standard culture techniques do not maintain functional stability of P450 enzymes for > 1 week in vitro. 2. The aim of this study was to demonstrate the beneficial effect of an easy to apply, extracellular matrix configuration on the long-term performance of cultured human liver cells. Light microscopical examination of the cultures indicated that the cells remained viable over 1 month. As revealed by electron microscopy, hepatocytes exhibited bile canaliculi and desmosomes and were rich in mitochondria and endoplasmatic reticulum, indicating metabolic activity. 3. An early culture phase (3 days after isolation) could be described with decreasing DNA content of the cultures, peak values of alanine-amino-transferase (ALAT), and increasing albumin synthesis. After this adaptive period stable levels for DNA content and albumin synthesis were noted; ALAT returned to low values. 4. Functional activity was monitored by measurements of P450 1A1-dependent O-demethylation of p-nitroanisole to p-nitrophenol, which appeared to be constant over 3 weeks and weakly inducible by 1 mM phenobarbital. Another set-up examined conjugation of acetaminophen at subtoxic concentrations: acetaminophen was metabolized to its glucuronide and sulphate; 3-(glutathione-S-yl)-acetaminophen was not detected. Almost identical metabolism was found, comparing day 3 with 16 of culture. 5. We concluded that collagen gel immobilization not only provides mechanical support to cultured hepatocytes, but also supports long-term differentiated function of the cells for metabolic studies.