Zerumbone (ZER), a sesquiterpene compound occurring in tropical ginger Zingiber zerumbet Smith, has been implicated as one of the promising chemopreventive agents against colon and skin cancer. In the present study, we investigated the phase II detoxification enzymes induction of ZER using a cultured rat normal liver epithelial cell line. Exposure of RL34 cells to ZER resulted in the significant induction of glutathione S-transferase, while the reduced analogues of ZER (alpha-humulene and 8-hydroxy-alpha-humulene) did not show any inducing effect. Therefore, the electrophilic property, characterized by the reactivity with intracellular nucleophiles including protein sulfhydryls as well as low molecular weight thiols, at the 8-position alpha,beta-unsaturated carbonyl group plays an important role in the induction of phase II enzymes. ZER induced nuclear localization of the transcription factor Nrf2 that binds to antioxidant response element (ARE) of the phase II enzyme genes, suggesting that ZER is a potential activator of the Nrf2/ARE-dependent detoxification pathway. This is consistent with the observation that ZER potentiated the gene expression of several Nrf2/ARE-dependent phase II enzyme genes, including gamma-glutamylcysteine synthetase, glutathione peroxidase, and hemeoxygenase-1. The present study also implied the antioxidant role of this detoxification system activation by ZER in the neutralization of lipid peroxidation in hepatocytes, providing a new insight for cancer prevention.