The saponin astragaloside IV (AST) is one of major active components purified from Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch) Bge, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat immune disorders including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The effects of AST on the suppression of experimental arthritis and its possible mechanisms are unknown. We measured the paw swelling of ankle joints, splenocyte proliferation, interleukin 1β (IL-1β), tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) and nitric oxide (NO) formation by macrophages in rat adjuvant-induced arthritis (AIA). Intraarticular injection of IL-1β to rat knee joint for inducing the edema and in vitro IL-1β-stimulated cartilage impairment were examined. The results showed that oral treatment of AST (100 mg/kg/day) suppressed the joint inflammation and inhibited IL-1β, TNFα and NO production in macrophages from AIA rats. Macrophages were one of AST targeted cells, and mediated the reduced splenocyte proliferation in AIA rats. In addition, AST reduced the swelling induced by intraarticular injection of IL-1β, and protected against IL-1β-induced damage of cartilage proteoglycan synthesis and chondrocyte proliferation. We conclude that AST possesses antiarthritic effect and prevents IL-1β-induced joint inflammation and cartilage destruction. These findings suggest that AST may be used for the treatment of RA and other inflammatory joint diseases.