The first technique for large-scale preparation of isolated hepatocytes was described in 1953 and involved perfusion of rat liver under pressure with a Ca(2+)-free solution containing a chelating agent. Various modifications of this technique were in use over the next ten years, until it was demonstrated that cells prepared in this manner were grossly damaged, losing most of their cytoplasmic enzymes during the preparative procedure. The successful preparation of intact isolated hepatocytes by collagenase-treatment of liver was achieved in 1967, and the widespread use of intact hepatocyte suspensions was accelerated by the development soon after of high-yield preparative techniques involving perfusion of the liver with a medium containing collagenase. The introduction of the isolated hepatocyte preparation has enabled experimental studies that otherwise would not be feasible. Important advances have been the use of cultured hepatocytes, frequently of human origin, for the investigation of the metabolism and toxicology of potential therapeutic agents. Success in this field has been achieved through the steady improvement in techniques for the maintenance in culture of differentiated hepatocytes, and in particular their cytochrome P450 complexes. Another area showing considerable promise is the employment of hepatocytes, generally from a porcine source, in temporary support systems for patients with acute liver failure. Our own studies have concentrated on the demonstration of long-range interactions between hepatocyte compartments which suggest that energy transfer between cell compartments can take place without ATP turnover.