Previous studies have demonstrated that Ganoderma lucidum polysaccharides (Gl-PS) exhibited potential antihyperglycemic effect in rats. The aim of the present study was to investigate the mechanism of the hypoglycemic effect of a low- molecular-weight Gl-PS in streptozotocin (STZ)-induced diabetic Sprague-Dawley (SD) rats. Gl-PS was extracted and purified from Ganodema lucidum fruiting body. 50 male SD rats were included in the study; 10 were taken as healthy controls; 40 were induced to diabetes by a single injection of 65 mg/kg STZ, of which 30 were selected as successful diabetic rat models. The 30 diabetic rats were divided into three groups: Gl-PS (200 mg/kg Gl-PS), metformin (100 mg/kg metformin) and diabetic control (n = 10 per group). After eight weeks' oral administration, plasma concentrations of fasting glucose, triacylglyceride, total cholesterol and nitric oxide were significantly decreased in Gl-PS and metformin groups. Pancreatic superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase were significantly increased in Gl-PS and metformin groups. Histopathological results showed that Gl-PS and metformin had protective effect on β-cells. The mRNA expressions of Bcl-2 and PDX-1 in pancreas were up-regulated, but Bax, iNOS and Casp-3 down-regulated in Gl- PS and metformin groups compared to diabetic control group. The present results suggested that Gl-PS had a hypoglycemic effect in STZ-induced diabetic rats through preventing apoptosis of pancreatic β-cells and enhancing β-cells regeneration.