Background: In bioartificial liver preparation, serum-contained medium is ordinarily replaced by serum-free medium and hepatocytes are generally cultured at high density. This study was to undertaken to evaluated the dynamic changes in morphology, viability and functions of porcine hepatocytes in serum-free medium at high density. Methods: Hepatocytes were isolated from suckling pigs by modified two-step in situ collagenase perfusion method and cultured in serum-free medium at high density. Morphology, viability, protein and glucose syntheses, G-6-Pase activity, diazepam transformation of hepatocytes and release of LDH in supernatant during 7 days of culture were evaluated. These measurements were also determined on both groups of hepatocytes cultured at low-density in serum-free medium and serum-contained medium, which served as control groups. Results: Morphology and protein synthesis of hepatocytes cultured in serum-free medium at high density were stable over the course of 7 days. High viability (>90%) was obtained though it declined with time. Diazepam transformation of cells was higher on days 2 and 3. Glucose synthesis of cells declined from day 3 to day 7. G-6-Pase activity of the hepatocytes declined apparently after 1 day of culture and it was maintained at a low level from day 1 to day 7. Release of LDH in supernatant was higher on days 1, 2 and 3. There were no significant differences in viability and functions of hepatocytes except for G-6-Pase activity at low-density culture between the serum-free medium group and the serum-contained medium group. The functions of hepatocytes cultured at high density were lower than at low-density culture. Conclusions: The results showed that the morphology, viability, protein synthesis and diazepam transformation of hepatocytes cultured in serum-free medium at high density were maintained during 7 days of culture. The serum-free medium provided indices of cell viability and functions that were comparable to serum-contained medium. The functions of hepatocyte cultured at high density (1 × 107 cells/ml) were lower than at low density (5 × 105 cells/ml).

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