Propofol (PPF), a widely used intravenous anesthetic for induction and maintenance of anesthesia during surgeries, was found to possess suppressive effect on host immunity. This study aimed at investigating whether PPF plays a modulatory role in the lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced inflammatory cytokine expression in a cell line of rat hepatocytes. Morphological observation and viability assay showed that PPF exhibits no cytotoxicity at concentrations up to 300 microM after 48 h incubation. Pretreatment with 100 microM PPF for 24 h prior to LPS stimulation was performed to investigate the modulatory effect on LPS-induced inflammatory gene production. The results of semi-quantitative RT-PCR demonstrated that PPF pretreatment significantly suppressed the LPS-induced toll-like receptor (TLR)-4, CD14, tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) gene expression. Western blotting analysis showed that PPF pretreatment potentiated the LPS-induced TLR-4 downregulation. Flow cytometrical analysis revealed that PPF pretreatment showed no modulatory effect on the LPS-upregulated CD14 expression on hepatocytes. In addition, PPF pretreatment attenuated the phosphorylation of mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MAPK/ERK) and IkappaBalpha, as well as the nuclear translocation of NF-kappaB primed by LPS. Moreover, addition of PD98059, a MAPK kinase inhibitor, significantly suppressed the LPS-induced NF-kappaB nuclear translocation and GM-CSF production, suggesting that the PPF-attenuated GM-CSF production in hepatocytes may be attributed to its suppressive effect on MAPK/ERK signaling pathway. In conclusion, PPF as an anesthetic may clinically benefit those patients who are vulnerable to sepsis by alleviating sepsis-related inflammatory response in livers.