Many recent studies related to the development of bioartificial liver devices have utilized hepatocytes cultured within devices of various geometries. Because hepatocytes are anchorage-dependent cells, they need to attach and spread onto the extracellular matrix to be able to function, a process that requires energy. Thus, it is important to deliver enough oxygen to hepatocytes contained within bioartificial liver devices during the early phase of cellular organization while the cells interact with the extracellular matrix. In this study, we investigated the effect of oxygen on the attachment and spreading of hepatocytes. Increasing the gas phase oxygen from 0 to 160 mmHg resulted in an increase in the percentage of cells attaching from 43.0 ± 5.8% to 103.6 ± 29%, 1 h after seeding. In a similar manner, increasing the gas phase oxygen from 0 to 160 mmHg resulted in an increase of the projected surface area from 310 ± 35 to 827 ± 127 μm2, 24 h after seeding. Furthermore, the partial pressure of oxygen at the cell level was estimated using a diffusion-reaction model. The model indicated that a cell surface oxygen partial pressure of 0.064 mmHg was required for the half-maximal (K) attachment of hepatocytes to collagen-based substrate. On the other hand, the K value of the spreading process was predicted to be 0.13 mmHg. The results of this study demonstrate the importance of oxygen during the initial stages of attachment and spreading of hepatocytes, and it has important implications in the design of hepatocyte-based bioartificial liver devices. © 1994 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.