After partial hepatectomy, the liver is capable of complete regeneration, restoring normal hepatic size, architecture, and function. To study the role of the extracellular matrix in regeneration, the temporal and spatial sequence of deposition of several of its components, including collagen types I, III, and IV, laminin, and fibronectin, in rat liver, after an 80% hepatectomy, was characterized by light microscopy immunohistochemistry. A minimum of five animals were studied for each date. In agreement with previous reports, subsequent to 80% hepatectomy, there was a brisk mitosis of hepatocytes. The mitotic activity was maximal at 48 hours, primarily in the periportal and centrilobular zones, and resulted in the formation of hepatocyte clusters and widening of the hepatic plates. Of the extracellular matrix components studied, laminin was the one demonstrating the most dramatic changes. By 24 hours, laminin appeared in the hepatic sinusoids reaching a maximum staining intensity at 48 hours. Intracellular laminin was prominent in numerous nonparenchymal cells, with many having the morphology, location, and desmin content characteristic of Ito cells. Laminin staining decreased in the sinusoids at 4 days; however, some intracellular staining of Ito cells was present even at 8 days after hepatectomy. At the completion of regeneration, there was no evidence of any substantial change in the ratio: extracellular matrix/cell mass. The results indicate that: (a) hepatocytes can divide without prior removal of the subsinusoidal extracellular matrix; (b) during regeneration, hepatocyte division precedes sinusoidal formation; (c) during hepatic regeneration, and in spite of the presence of laminin in Ito cells, no basement membranes are formed; (d) the prominent expression of laminin and its proposed functions in morphogenesis suggest a critical role for this matrix component in the formation and reorganization of the regenerating liver.