OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the protective effects of ischemic preconditioning in a prospective randomized study involving a large population of unselected patients and to identify factors affecting the protective effects. SUMMARY BACKGROUND DATA: Ischemic preconditioning is an effective protective strategy in several animal models. Protection has also been suggested in a small series of patients undergoing a hemihepatectomy with 30 minutes of inflow occlusion. Whether preconditioning confers protection in other types of liver resection and longer periods of ischemia is unknown. Therefore, we conducted a prospective randomized study to evaluate the impact of ischemic preconditioning in liver surgery. METHODS: A total of 100 unselected patients undergoing major liver resection (> bisegmentectomy) under inflow occlusion for at least 30 minutes were randomized during surgery to either receive or not receive an ischemic preconditioning protocol (10 minutes of ischemia followed by 10 minutes of reperfusion). Univariate and multivariate analyses were performed to identify independent factors affecting the protective effects of ischemic preconditioning. ATP contents in liver were measured as a possible mechanism of protection. RESULTS: Both groups (n = 50 in each) were comparable regarding age, gender, duration of inflow occlusion, and resected liver volumes. Postoperative serum transaminase levels were significantly lower in preconditioned than in control patients (median peak AST 364 U/L vs. 520 U/L, P = 0.028; ALT 406 vs. 519 U/L, P = 0.049). Regression multivariate analysis revealed an increased benefit of ischemic preconditioning in younger patients, in patients with longer duration of inflow occlusion (up to 60 minutes), and in cases of lower resected liver volume (<50%). Patients with steatosis were also particularly protected by ischemic preconditioning. ATP content in liver tissue was preserved by ischemic preconditioning in young but not older patients. CONCLUSIONS: This study establishes ischemic preconditioning as a protective strategy against hepatic ischemia in humans. The strategy is particularly effective in young patients requiring a prolonged period of inflow occlusion, and in the presence of steatosis, and is possibly related to preservation of ATP content in liver tissue. Other strategies are needed in older patients.