Hepatic cysts are a frequent manifestation of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, but little is known about their functional characteristics. The goals of our study were to define the composition of hepatic cyst fluid and to determine whether hepatic cysts secrete in response to intravenously administered secretin. We percutaneously punctured five hepatic cysts and one proximal renal cyst from six subjects with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease and one solitary hepatic cyst from a subject without autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. Most fluids had an electrolyte composition similar to serum. Fluid from all hepatic cysts had glutamyltranspeptidase concentrations above those found in serum ([cyst]/[serum] = 4.93 ± 5.92), contained secretory component (the epithelial receptor for polymeric IgA) and had glucose concentrations less than 15 mg/dl. Fluid from both hepatic and renal cysts of subjects with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, but not from the subject with the solitary hepatic cyst, demonstrated extensive changes in the electrophoretic mobility of several serum proteins. Initial intracystic pressures ranged from 16 to 40 cm H2O, were reduced 57% to 97% after aspiration of a portion of cyst fluid and were held constant during the secretion study. Within 8 min of the intravenous administration of secretin, secretion of fluid increased in two of three hepatic cysts and in the renal cyst. The electrolyte composition of cyst fluids was not altered by secretin. These data suggest that hepatic cystic epithelium has functional characteristics of biliary epithelium and that secretion by both hepatic and renal cysts may be hormonally regulated.(HEPATOLOGY 1990; 11:557:565.)