Our recent study has shown that beetroot juice protects against N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDEA)-induced liver injury and increases the activity of phase II enzymes, suggesting the activation of the nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 (Nrf2)-antioxidant response element (ARE) pathway. The aim of the present study was to further explore the mechanism of the activity of beetroot by evaluating the cytoprotective effects of its major component. The influence of betanin (BET) on the activation of Nrf2 and the expression of GSTA, GSTP, GSTM, GSTT, NQO1 and HO-1 was assessed in two hepatic cell lines: non-tumour THLE-2 and hepatoma-derived HepG2 cell lines. The level of the tumour suppressor p53 in both cell lines and the methylation of GSTP in HepG2 cells were also evaluated. Treatment of both cell lines with 2, 10 and 20 μm of BET resulted in the translocation of Nrf2 from the cytosol to the nucleus. The mRNA and nuclear protein levels of Nrf2 and the binding of Nrf2 to ARE sequences were increased only in the THLE-2 cells and were accompanied by the phosphorylation of serine/threonine kinase (AKT), c-Jun N-terminal kinase (JNK) and extracellular signal-regulated kinase (ERK). BET also significantly increased the mRNA and protein levels of GSTP, GSTT, GSTM and NQO1 in these cells. Conversely, besides the translocation of Nrf2 from the cytosol to the nucleus, BET did not modulate any of the other parameters measured in the HepG2 cells. BET did not change the methylation of GSTP1 in these cells either. These results indicate that BET through the activation of Nrf2 and subsequent induction of the expression of genes controlled by this factor may exert its hepatoprotective and anticarcinogenic effects. Moreover, the activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases may be responsible for the activation of Nrf2 in the THLE-2 cells.