BACKGROUND: Induction therapy with daclizumab has been shown to be efficacious in the prevention of acute rejection in kidney transplant patients. The routine use of antibody induction therapy in liver transplantation has not gained widespread acceptance, except in the cases of renal insufficiency. The recent approval of daclizumab prompted us to initiate this pilot study using induction therapy in those patients at risk for developing posttransplant renal insufficiency. METHODS: This nonrandomized study examined the use of daclizumab in 39 of the last 97 liver transplants performed at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. The daclizumab group received 2 mg/kg intravenously before organ engraftment, and 38 of the 39 received 1 mg/kg intravenously on postoperative day 5. The control group consisted of the remaining 58 contemporary patients. Additional immunosuppression consisted of steroids, tacrolimus, or microemulsion cyclosporine in all patients and mycophenolate mofetil in selected patients. RESULTS: Pretransplant demographics were not significantly different between the groups. In the induction group there were significantly fewer males, 14 (36%) vs. 34 (59%) (P=0.03). They had greater renal insufficiency at the time of transplant, serum creatine 1.9+/-0.37 mg/dl vs. 0.8+/-0.5; P=0.0009, and more patients were at higher acuity (status 1 and 2A): 12 (31%) vs. 3 (5%) P=0.0006 than in the noninduction group. By postoperative day 7, renal function improved in the induction group such that it was not significantly different from the noninduction group and remained similar throughout the rest of the follow-up. The induction group also experienced significantly less acute rejection, 7 (18%) vs. 23 (40%) (P=0.02) than in the noninduction group in the first 6 months. The 1-, 3-, and 6-month patient survival rates were similar in the induction group, 97.4%, 97.4%, and 97.4%, vs. non-induction 94.8%, 93.0%, and 93% (P=NS). The incidence of cytomegalovirus, in the first 6 months, in the induction group was four (10%) vs. five (9%) (P=NS) in the noninduction group. CONCLUSION: In the pilot study, induction therapy with daclizumab was safe, facilitated improvement in renal function, and appeared to reduce the incidence of acute rejection. Combination therapy with daclizumab may be an important adjunct in immunosuppressive strategies for liver transplant recipients.