During the last years an increasing number of in vitro models have been developed for drug screening and toxicity testing. Primary cultures of hepatocytes are, by far, the model of choice for those high-throughput studies but their spontaneous dedifferentiation after some time in culture hinders long-term studies. Thus, novel cell culture systems allowing extended hepatocyte maintenance and more predictive long term in vitro studies are required. It has been shown that hepatocytes functionality can be improved and extended in time when cultured as 3D-cell aggregates in environmental controlled stirred bioreactors. In this work, aiming at further improving hepatocytes functionality in such 3D cellular structures, co-cultures with fibroblasts were performed. An inoculum concentration of 1.2 x 10(5) cell/mL and a 1:2 hepatocyte:mouse embryonic fibroblast ratio allowed to improve significantly the albumin secretion rate and both ECOD (phase I) and UGT (phase II) enzymatic activities in 3D co-cultures, as compared to the routinely used 20 hepatocyte monocultures. Significant improvements were also observed in relation to 3D monocultures of hepatocytes. Furthermore, hepatocytes were able to respond to the addition of beta-Naphtoflavone by increasing ECOD activity showing CYP1A inducibility. The dependence of CYP activity on oxygen concentration was also observed. In summary, the improved hepatocyte specific functions during long term incubation of 3D co-cultures of hepatocytes with fibroblasts indicate that this system is a promising in vitro model for long term toxicological studies. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.