BACKGROUND/AIMS: Hepatoblastoma is the most frequent malignant pediatric liver tumor. Approximately 25% of hepatoblastoma patients cannot be cured with current treatment protocols. Additional treatment options must, therefore, be developed. Subcutaneous animal models for hepatoblastoma exist, but a more physiologic intrahepatic model is lacking. METHODS: The alpha-fetoprotein-expressing hepatoblastoma-cell lines HepT1, HuH6 and the childhood hepatocellular carcinoma-cell line HepG2 were injected subcutaneously and intrasplenically into NMRI nu/nu mice. Tumor growth was monitored by measuring tumor size for subcutaneous and serum human alpha-fetoprotein levels for intra-abdominal tumors. Tumors were characterized microscopically. RESULTS: Subcutaneous tumor growth occurred in 70% (7/10) of mice injected with HuH6 and 50% (5/10) of mice injected with HepG2. HepT1 did not form tumors. Accumulation of serum alpha-fetoprotein reflected tumor growth. Intrasplenic growth was seen in 50% (14/27, HuH6) and 10% (3/10, HepG2) of the mice, with only HuH6 forming intrahepatic tumors in 25% (7/27) of the mice. Growth pattern and alpha-fetoprotein production were similar at the subcutaneous and intra-abdominal location. Intrahepatic grafting occurred by metastatic spread from the spleen, produced well-defined nodules, and was accompanied by a weakened expression of the hepatocyte marker carbamoylphosphate synthetase, and the canalicular markers CD10 and cytokeratin7. The expression of cytokeratin18 and -19, active caspase3, and beta-catenin was increased. There were no lung metastases. CONCLUSIONS: We established an intrahepatic mouse model for human hepatoblastoma, in which tumor growth could be monitored by serum alpha-fetoprotein levels. Engrafting in the liver occurred by metastatic spread from the spleen and was accompanied by some loss of differentiation features.