Background. Evidence is emerging that the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) participates in initiation of apoptosis induced by the unfolded protein response and by aberrant Ca++ signaling during cellular stress such as ischemia/reperfusion injury (I/R injury). ER-induced apoptosis involves the activation of caspase-12 and C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP), and the shutdown of translation initiated by phosphorylation of eIF2α. Sodium 4-phenylbutyrate (PBA) is a low molecular weight fatty acid that acts as a chemical chaperone reducing the load of mutant or unfolded proteins retained in the ER during cellular stress and also exerting anti-inflammatory activity. It has been used successfully for treatment of urea cycle disorders and sickle cell disease. Thus, we hypothesized that PBA may reduce ER-induced apoptosis triggered by I/R injury to the liver. Methods. Groups of male C57BL/6 mice were subjected to warm ischemia (70% of the liver mass, 45 minutes). Serum aspartate aminotransferase was assessed 6 hours after reperfusion; apoptosis was evaluated by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays of caspase-12 and plasma tumor necrosis factor α, Western blot analyses of eIF2α, and reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction of CHOP expression. Results. A dose-dependent decrease in aspartate aminotransferase was demonstrated in mice given intraperitoneal PBA (1 hour before and 12 hours after reperfusion), compared with vehicle-treated controls; this effect was associated with reduced pyknosis, parenchymal hemorrhages, and neutrophil infiltrates in PBA-treated mice, compared with controls. In a lethal model of total liver I/R injury, all vehicle-treated controls died within 3 days after reperfusion. In contrast, 50% survival (>30 days) was observed in animals given PBA. The beneficial effects of PBA were associated with a greater than 45% reduction in apoptosis, decreased ER-mediated apoptosis characterized by significant reduction in caspase-12 activation, and reduced levels of both phosphorylated eIF2α and CHOP. Significant reductions in plasma levels of tumor necrosis factor α and liver myeloperoxidase content were demonstrated after PBA treatment. Conclusions. Reduction in ER stress-induced hepatocellular injury was achieved by the administration of PBA. Targeting the ER-associated cell death pathway might offer a novel approach to reduce I/R injury to the liver. © 2005 Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.