Primary porcine hepatocytes cultured in suspension self-assemble into multicellular aggregates or spheroids that display enhanced liver-specific functional capability and remain viable for an extended period of time in vitro. The molecular events underlying the process of spheroid formation were explored by differential gene expression analysis. Critical time points in spheroid formation were first identified by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis of stress-related gene expression levels at different stages of spheroid formation. Suppression subtractive hybridization was used to identify transcripts up- or down-regulated at different stages of spheroid formation. Subsequently, three sets of reciprocal subtractions, comparing freshly isolated hepatocytes, spheroid-forming hepatocytes, and mature spheroids were carried out, and differentially expressed transcripts were isolated, cloned, sequenced, and annotated. A total of 65 genes and 14 novel transcripts were identified as differentially expressed, and very high sequence conservation between pig and human transcripts was observed. The resultant expressed sequence tags (ESTs) revealed a rapid decrease in the transcript levels of a subset of liver-specific genes, cytochrome P450s, and enzymes involved in heme biosynthesis, as well as up-regulation of genes involved in calcium-dependent vesicle trafficking and a number of acute-phase proteins in mature spheroids. Previous morphological and functional data on hepatocyte spheroid formation support cellular polarization of the hepatocyte into apical and basolateral domains in spheroids. This is important for the re-emergence of differentiated functions in vitro and is reflected by differences in gene expression patterns.