Agmatine, an endogenous arginine metabolite, has been proposed as a novel neuromodulator that plays protective roles in the CNS in several models of cellular damage. However, the mechanisms involved in these protective effects in neurodegenerative diseases are poorly understood. The present study was undertaken to investigate the effects of agmatine on cell injury induced by rotenone, commonly used in establishing in vivo and in vitro models of Parkinson's disease, in human-derived dopaminergic neuroblastoma cell line (SH-SY5Y). We report that agmatine dose-dependently suppressed rotenone-induced cellular injury through a reduction of oxidative stress. Similar effects were obtained by spermine, suggesting a scavenging effect for these compounds. However, unlike spermine, agmatine also prevented rotenone-induced nuclear factor-κB nuclear translocation and mitochondrial membrane potential dissipation. Furthermore, rotenone-induced increase in apoptotic markers, such as caspase 3 activity, Bax expression and cytochrome c release, was significantly attenuated with agmatine treatment. These findings demonstrate mitochondrial preservation with agmatine in a rotenone model of apoptotic cell death, and that the neuroprotective action of agmatine appears because of suppressing apoptotic signalling mechanisms. Thus, agmatine may have therapeutic potential in the treatment of Parkinson's disease by protecting dopaminergic neurons.