We investigated activation mechanisms of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) that are known to play pivotal roles in the regeneration process after 70% partial hepatectomy (PHx). Parenchymal liver cells (PLCs) and non-parenchymal cells (NPLCs) were isolated and purified from the regenerating livers at 1, 3, 7, 14 days after PHx. Each liver cell fraction was stained by immunocytochemistry using an anti-desmin antibody as a marker for HSCs, anti-alpha-smooth muscle actin (alpha-SMA) as a marker for activated HSCs, and 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU) for detection of proliferating cells. Tissue sections from regenerating livers were also analyzed by immunohistochemistry and compared with the results obtained for isolated cell fractions. One and 3 days after PHx, PLC-enriched fraction contained HSCs adhered to PLCs. The HSCs adhered to PLCs were double positive for BrdU and alpha-SMA, and formed clusters suggesting that these HSCs were activated. However, HSC-enriched fraction contained HSCs not adhered PLCs showed positive staining for anti-desmin antibody but negative for anti-alpha-SMA antibody. These results suggest that HSCs are activated by adhering to PLCs during the early phase of hepatic regeneration.