In order to document and compare proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) mRNA and protein levels with more traditional parameters of hepatic regenerative activity in a rat model, adult male Sprague-Dawley rats (4 to 6 per group) were killed at various times up to 96 hours after 70% partial hepatectomy. At each time interval, tissue PCNA mRNA abundance and protein levels were documented (by Northern and Western blot analysis, respectively) and compared with the results of PCNA immunostaining and3 H-thymidine incorporation into hepatic DNA. Tissue PCNA protein levels were also documented in additional groups of rats 12, 24, 36, and 48 hours after sham or 30% partial hepatectomy. PCNA mRNA expression after partial hepatectomy was variable: almost undetectable at 24 hours, levels returned to baseline at 36 hours, then fell again to low levels at 96 hours. PCNA protein levels remained stable for 36 hours, increased to fourfold above baseline (p < 0.01) at 48 hours, then remained elevated for the duration of the 96-hour study. Changes in PCNA by immunostaining were similar but tended to occur somewhat earlier (significant increases being detectable at 24 hours), whereas 3H-thymidine incorporation detected the earliest increases in DNA synthesis at 12 hours and peaked at 36 hours. Peak PCNA protein levels correlated with the extent (0%, 30%, or 70%) of hepatic resection. The results indicate that PCNA protein level as determined by Western blot analysis, but not PCNA mRNA expression, correlates with PCNA immunostaining and 3H-thymidine incorporation in the regenerating liver. These findings support the use of PCNA protein determinations as an additional quantitative measure of hepatic regenerative activity after partial hepatectomy in rats.