Freshly isolated oval cells, which we obtained from the livers of rats fed a choline-deficient/DL-ethioninesupplemented diet, did not transport bile acids. Compared with freshly isolated rat hepatocytes they took up only negligible amounts of [3H]taurocholate or [14C]cholate. The cells bound small amounts of radioactive bile acids. This portion of the total cell-associated radioactivity was enhanced on membrane permeabilization. In contrast to cultured liver parenchymal cells from untreated rats, no bile acid synthesis was detected in cultured oval cells. Cultured oval cells also lost the ability to conjugate exogenously added cholate (100 μmol/L) with taurine or glycine. However, when liver parenchymal cells were isolated from carcinogen-fed rats, bile acid uptake was diminished compared with that in hepatocytes from control animals. In particular, the maximum values of taurocholate and cholate uptake were decreased by 75 and 50, respectively, whereas the Michaelis-Menten constant values were not altered. The study demonstrates that (a) oval cells lack typical liver parenchymal cell-specific properties such as bile acid uptake, bile acid synthesis and conjugation of bile acids with taurine/glycine and therefore do not contribute to bile acid dependent bile formation (b) proliferating in livers of rats fed a choline-deficient/DL-ethionine-supplemented diet are part of the bile duct epithelial cell compartment); and (c) bile acid uptake is reduced in liver parenchymal cells of rats fed a choline deficient/DL-ethionine-supplemented diet, and this effect is due to a decrease in transport capacity without a decrease in transport affinity. (Hepatology 1994;19:722–727).