Hepatocytes isolated from adult rat livers were hypothermically preserved for 24 or 48 hr before being plated under conventional culture conditions. They were stored either in the Leibovitz medium, a cell culture medium with and without polyethylene glycol (PEG), a compound known to suppress ischemia-induced cell swelling, or in the University of Wisconsin solution, the most effective solution for cold organ preservation. After 24 or 48 hr of storage at 4.5° C in Leibovitz medium, cell viability and adherence efficiency to plastic dish, were only slightly reduced, whereas University of Wisconsin hepatocytes had a decreased viability and (especially after 48-hr storage) lost their adhesion ability; they did not survive in vitro. The metabolic competence of hepatocytes maintained in Leibovitz medium was retained over the 3 days of culture, as shown by low extracellular levels of the membrane-bound and cytosolic hepatic enzymes, as well as by intracellular glutathione content, albumin secretion rate and several phase I and phase II drug metabolic reactions very close to those found with fresh hepatocytes maintained under similar culture conditions. Addition of polyethylene glycol to the Leibovitz medium resulted in slightly higher viability and function of hepatocytes after cold storage.

These results clearly demonstrate that viability of a transplanted liver does not correlate with long-term in vitro viability of isolated hepatocytes after hypothermic preservation in University of Wisconsin solution. They also suggest that nutritional and energy substrates as found in the Leibovitz medium are probably required to define a suitable solution for cold preservation of isolated parenchymal cells. The findings with Leibovitz medium favor the conclusion that hypothermically preserved hepatocytes could be used for various metabolic studies and for the treatment of liver insufficiency. (HEPATOLOGY 1992;15:97-106).