Apoptosis was originally defined as shrinkage necrosis, as a distinct mode of cellular death from coagulative necrosis in the rat liver lobes after portal branch ligation. To reveal the functional role of the apoptosis of hepatocytes in the volume reduction and recovery of normal hepatic architecture in portal-deprived liver lobes, we ligated the portal vein branch supplying the left and median liver lobes in Wistar rats. The liver lobes were perfusion-fixed with glutaraldehyde solution via the proximal site of the ligated portion of the portal vein on Days 1, 2, 4, 7 and 14 after operation and examined light and electron microscopically. On Day 2 after ligation, massive necrosis of hepatocytes occurred in the central to intermediate zones of the liver lobule, and apoptotic hepatocytes were observed in the boundary region between necrotic and normal areas. Such necrotic area-associated apoptosis of hepatocytes was most frequent on Day 2, declining thereafter. The sequential changes of the cell organelles in apoptotic hepatocytes were distinct from those in necrotic hepatocytes. On Day 7, when necrotic areas had almost disappeared the apoptosis of hepatocytes occurred mostly between intact hepatocytes in the "combined hepatic cell cords" which included no obvious sinusoidal lumen between hepatic cell cords. Such necrotic area-nonassociated apoptosis began to increase in frequency on Day 4, reached a peak on Day 7 and was gone by Day 14, when normal hepatic architecture was recovered. The present study suggests that both necrotic area-associated and non-associated apoptosis of hepatocytes may be induced by mild ischemia and contribute in part to the volume reduction of ligated liver lobes. It further reveals that the necrotic area-non-associated apoptosis of hepatocytes plays a role in reconstructing the architecture of hepatic cell cords after necrotic hepatocytes have undergone dissolution in the liver lobule.