Metastases rarely occur in human livers with cirrhosis in clinical studies. We postulated that this phenomenon would also occur in experimental cirrhosis. Cirrhosis was established in C57BL/6 mice by carbon tetrachloride (CCl(4)) gastrogavage. B16F1 melanoma cells were injected into the mesenteric vein to induce hepatic metastases. Contrary to our postulate, there was greater than 4-fold increase in metastasis in animals with cirrhosis compared to controls. Intravital videomicroscopy showed that the hepatic sinusoids were narrower and more tumor cells were retained in the terminal portal vein (TPV) in cirrhotic livers. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated that the expression of vascular adhesion molecules was significantly increased in cirrhosis. Using confocal microscopy and the fluorescent nitric oxide (NO) probe 4,5-diaminofluorescein diacetate, a significantly lower level of NO release was detected in livers with cirrhosis both in basal conditions and after tumor cell arrest. Eight hours after mesenteric vein tumor cell injection, the percentage of apoptotic tumor cells in the sinusoids was 17% +/- 2% in livers with cirrhosis and 30% +/- 5% in normal livers. More mitotic and Ki-67 labeled tumor cells were seen in livers with cirrhosis. In conclusion, the changes in architecture and adhesion molecule expression in livers with cirrhosis may cause more tumor cells to arrest in the TPV. Lower levels of NO production may reduce apoptosis of B16F1 cells in livers with cirrhosis. As a result, these changes may promote the growth of metastasis in this cirrhotic model.