Hepatitis C vital recurrence after orthotopic liver transplantation is almost universal. Hepatitis C-induced graft failure may occur, but the clinical and histologic profiles are not well defined. The aim of this study was to describe the pattern of early graft failure in patients with recurrent hepatitis C after liver transplantation. Thirty patients with hepatitis C underwent liver transplantation from October 1989 through September 1994. Four patients were excluded because of death (2 patients), graft failure unrelated to hepatitis C (1 patient), and lost to follow-up (1 patient). Hepatitis C recurred in 24 of the 26 remaining patients. In 4 patients with hepatitis C virus recurrence and cholestasis, graft failure developed at 5.25, 11.0, 11.0, and 18.5 months. The medical records and liver biopsies were reviewed. In all 4 patients, a histologic pattern characterized by centrilobular ballooning degeneration developed and progressed to involve more than two-thirds of the lobules. Moderate to severe cholestasis and bridging fibrosis were present in all grafts at explant. Two patients had portal inflammation on 3-month biopsies consistent with viral hepatitis. All patients had mild macrovesicular steatosis, but only 1 patient had significant lymphoid aggregates. No patient had evidence of hepatic artery thrombosis. One patient had potential drug-induced cholestasis. One patient had 3 episodes of rejection that were not believed to contribute to graft loss. All 4 patients developed clinical features of hepatic failure and were retransplanted. Two patients had early recurrence of graft failure. We conclude that a pattern of progressive centrilobular ballooning degeneration, bridging fibrosis, and cholestasis occurs in some patients with hepatitis C with early graft failure, similar to fibrosing cholestatic hepatitis seen in some transplant patients with recurrent hepatitis B.