Trientine dihydrochloride (trientine) is an alternative medicinal copper chelating agent for patients with Wilson's disease of penicillamine intolerance. We examined the effects of trientine on the spontaneous development of hepatitis and hepatic tumors, by its short- term and long-term administration to Long-Evans cinnamon (LEC) rats with an accumulation of copper in the liver, as animal models of Wilson's disease. Male rats were given trientine in their drinking water at 1500 ppm for 18 weeks, from 6 weeks to 24 weeks of age in short-term experiment, and 1500 ppm for 27 weeks then 750 ppm for 52 weeks, from 8 to 87 weeks of age in the long-term experiment. Development of hepatitis was observed in the control LEC rats at 18 weeks of age. They had high levels of plasma transaminases (glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase [GOT], glutamic pyruvic transaminase [GPT]), and on pathological examination, hepatocyte destruction was observed. Histological findings revealed that short-term administration of trientine inhibited the development of hepatitis remarkably. The plasma GOT and GPT levels of treated animals were only slightly higher than those of normal LEA (Long-Evans with agouti coat color) rats, a sibling line of LEC rats. Copper levels in the liver were decreased by a maximum of 50 percent. In the long-term administration of trientine, the incidence of hepatic cell carcinoma (HCC) in the treated rats was 67 percent that of the untreated LEC rats, and the number of HCCs per rat in the treated group was 0.7 +/- 0.5, being significantly lower as compared with 4.7 +/- 3.5 in the untreated rats. Additionally, the development of cholangiofibrosis in LEC rats was completely prevented by long-term administration of the agent. The copper level in the liver of treated rats was reduced by 33 percent at 87 weeks of age. Development of HCC in LEC rats might be partly, but not totally, because of copper accumulation. No effects on the levels of copper, iron, or zinc in the liver of LEA rats was detected, and no adverse effects were detected in either LEC or LEA rats after both short- and long-term administration of trientine in drinking water.