We studied the preventive effects of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) on experimental hepatic fibrosis induced by dimethylnitrosamine (DMN) in rats. Treatment with DMN caused a significant decrease in body and liver weight. Oral DMSO (2 ml/kg daily for 4 weeks) essentially prevented this DMN-induced body and liver weight loss with no major side effects. DMSO suppressed the induction of hepatic fibrosis, as determined by histological evaluation, and reduced hepatic hydroxyproline. It also suppressed the expression of mRNA for type I collagen in the liver. Because hepatic stellate cells (HSC) are the major cellular source of the collagen in hepatic fibrosis, we examined the effects of DMSO on collagen production in vitro using rat primary HSC culture. However, it was found that DMSO did not inhibit the collagen production in vitro. We next evaluated the effects of DMSO on tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) and nitric oxide (NO) production by Kupffer cells, because these factors represent major activator of HSC, and because monocyte-macrophage infiltration has been implicated as being pathogenetically important for hepatic fibrosis induced by DMN. DMSO inhibited lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced TNF alpha and NO production, and reduced TNF alpha mRNA levels. DMSO also suppressed the LPS-induced nuclear factor kappa B activation in a murine macrophagelike cell line. These results suggest that the inhibitory effects of DMSO on hepatic fibrosis may be primarily exerted via blocking of DMN-induced inflammation. These results also implied that DMSO may be potentially useful for preventing the development of hepatic fibrosis.