Little is known about the possible contribution of apoptosis to ischemia-reperfusion injury in human liver transplantation. Therefore, we studied postreperfusion surgical biopsy specimens of 16 human liver allografts using the TUNEL assay for in situ demonstration of apoptotic cells. In all patients, a variable proportion of hepatocytes and sinusoidal endothelial cells presented labeled nuclei. The mean +/- standard deviation percentages of positive hepatocytes were 18.7% +/- 12.2% in the whole section, 30.4% +/- 18.7% in the subcapsular region, 14.5% +/- 13.5% in the centrilobular zones, and 10.3% +/- 9.5% in the periportal zones. The percentage of positive hepatocytes were not correlated with the duration of cold ischemia but was higher in grafts harvested from donors with elevated preoperative aspartate aminotransferase (AST) levels. The percentage of positive hepatocytes was correlated with postoperative serum levels of AST (P = .015) and inversely correlated with postoperative serum levels of factor V (P = .019). Apoptotic biliary epithelial cells were detected in only 3 cases. In conclusion, apoptosis is a frequent event in postreperfusion biopsy specimens of liver allografts and probably contributes to preservation injury of hepatocytes.