In this study, the stimulatory effect of bile salts (BS) was evaluated both in vitro, using hepatocyte primary cultures, and in vivo, in normal and 40% partially hepatectomized rats previously fed on BS-enriched diets for 4 weeks. In vitro results show that conjugated cholate (CA) and chenodeoxycholate (CDCA) augmented proliferative activity in rat hepatocytes cultured in absence of mitogens, whereas conjugated deoxycholate (DCA), and ursodeoxycholate (UDCA) did not have any significant effect. None of these BSs increased significantly the replicative response induced by submaximal concentrations of epidermal growth factor (EGF). In vivo, at the end of dietary treatment all animals fed on CA or DCA but not those fed on either CDCA, or UDCA, or tauroursodeoxycholate (TUDCA) developed cholestatic hepatitis and a burst of damage-induced hepatocyte proliferation. After 40% partial hepatectomy (PH), CA- and DCA-treated groups underwent a deterioration of cholestatic hepatitis. On the other hand, in CDCA-, and UDCA-, and TUDCA-treated groups liver histology, serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase (SGPT) and cholestasis indices did not change significantly compared with controls. As far as the proliferative activity, a significant increase was observed not only in CA and DCA but also in UDCA- and TUDCA-fed groups compared with controls, whereas a slight decrease was observed in CDCA-treated animals. In conclusion, our data indicate that conjugated BSs had only a modest stimulatory effect on hepatocyte proliferation in vitro. However, in vivo, in PH rats, UDCA or TUDCA treatment determined a further increase of hepatocellular proliferation not attributable to hepatotoxic effects. Our result suggest that modifications of bile acid pool could modulate hepatocellular proliferation.