AIMS--To investigate the effects of transforming growth factor beta 1 (TGF-beta 1) on regeneration and induction of apoptosis of liver cell and bile duct in various liver diseases. METHODS--Formalin fixed paraffin wax sections of 18 liver tissue samples were obtained by needle biopsy, surgery, or necropsy; these included six liver cirrhosis, three obstructive jaundice; five fulminant hepatitis, one subacute hepatitis, and three normal liver. Expression of TGF-beta 1, apoptosis related Le(y) antigen, Fas antigen, a receptor for tumour necrosis factor, and biotin nick end labelling with terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase mediated dUTP (TUNEL) for locating DNA fragmentation, was investigated histochemically. RESULTS--TGF-beta 1 was expressed in areas of atypical bile duct proliferation, where bile duct continuously proliferated from liver cells. In occlusive jaundice and fulminant hepatitis, TUNEL was positive in nuclei and cytoplasm of metaplastic cells which formed incomplete bile ducts, and these cells appeared to extend from TGF-beta 1 expressing liver cells. Fas antigen was found only on the cell membrane of proliferated bile duct in fulminant hepatitis, which differed from TGF-beta 1 and TUNEL positive areas. Le(y) antigen was expressed in liver cell and bile duct at the areas with atypical bile duct proliferation, but its coexpression with TUNEL was rare. CONCLUSIONS--TGF-beta 1 plays a role in the arrest of liver cell regeneration and atypical bile duct proliferation, and in areas of rapidly progressing atypical bile duct proliferation, such as in fulminant hepatitis or bile retention. Apoptosis appears to be induced by TGF-beta 1. This phenomenon may account for the inadequate hepatic regeneration that occurs with liver disease.