BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection has become the most common indication for liver transplantation (LT). Graft and patient survival are adversely affected by recurrent infection of the graft. Recent publications have described an inferior outcome for recently transplanted HCV patients and have highlighted the impact of advancing donor age on severity of recurrent HCV. The donor age at which a measurable impact on graft and patient outcome can be observed has not clearly been defined. In addition, the impact of donor age on graft and patient survival for non-HCV patients needs to be examined. METHODS: We have examined a large European liver transplant database to define the impact of transplantation date and donor age on graft and patient survival for HCV patients (n = 4,736) and the impact for a comparison group of transplanted alcoholic liver disease patients (ALD, n = 5,406). RESULTS: For the entire cohorts, graft and patient survival of HCV patients was inferior to ALD patients. Since 1987, there has been a steady and ongoing improvement in the outcome of transplanted ALD patients, an improvement not observed for HCV patients. Every year since 1989, there has been an increase in liver donor age. Graft and patient survival for both ALD and HCV cohorts was adversely affected by advancing donor age. Comparison of graft and patient survival for HCV and ALD cohorts was made according to donor age (donor age subgrouped 60 years of age). For donors younger than 40 years of age, HCV and ALD recipient graft and patient survival are not significantly different. For donors older than 40, HCV recipient graft survival is inferior to ALD graft survival, an inferiority that increases for each advancing decade of donor age. For donors older than 50 years, HCV recipient patient survival is inferior to ALD patient survival, an inferiority that increases when the donor age is greater than 60 years. CONCLUSION: The results of liver transplantation for European HCV patients is inferior to a comparison group of ALD patients, and have not improved during the past 15 years. Liver donor age has increased significantly during that period. Advancing donor age has an adverse influence on graft and patient survival for ALD and HCV patients, but a significantly greater impact is observed for HCV patients when the donor is older than 40 years.