Berberine, a main protoberberine component of Coptidis Rhizoma, was studied for the mechanism of its inhibitory effects on the tert-butyl hydroperoxide (t-BHP)-induced cytotoxicity and lipid peroxidation in rat liver. In the preliminary study, berberine expressed an antioxidant property by its capacity for quenching the free radicals of 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH). Further investigations were conducted using t-BHP-induced cytotoxicity in rat primary hepatocytes and hepatotoxicity in rats to evaluate the antioxidative bioactivity of berberine. The results in rat primary hepatocytes demonstrated that berberine, at the concentrations of 0.01-1.0 mM, significantly decreased the leakage of lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), and the formation of malondialdehyde (MDA) induced by 30 min treatment of t-BHP (1.5 mM). Berberine also attenuated the t-BHP-induced depletion of glutathione (GSH) and induced a high level of DNA repair synthesis. The in vivo study showed that the intraperitoneal pretreatment with berberine (0.5 and 5 mg/kg) for 5 days before a single dose of t-BHP (0.1 mmol/kg) significantly lowered the serum levels of hepatic enzyme markers (ALT and aspartate aminotransferase) and reduced oxidative stress in the liver. The histopathological evaluation of the livers revealed that berberine reduced the incidence of liver lesions, including hepatocyte swelling, leukocyte infiltrations, and necrosis induced by t-BHP. These results lead us to speculate that berberine may play a chemopreventive role via reducing oxidative stress in living systems.