The antioxidant property of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was formerly attributed to its direct effects. Our former study showed that DMSO is able to induce heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) expression in endothelial cells, which is a potent antioxidant enzyme. In this study, we hypothesized that the antioxidant effects of DMSO in cardiomyocytes are mediated or partially mediated by increased HO-1 expression. Therefore, we investigated whether DMSO exerts protective effects against H2O2-induced oxidative damage in cardiomyocytes, and whether HO-1 is involved in DMSO-imparted protective effects, and we also explore the underlying mechanism of DMSO-induced HO-1 expression. Our study demonstrated that DMSO pretreatment showed a cytoprotective effect against H2O2-induced oxidative damage (impaired cell viability, increased apopototic cells rate and caspase-3 level, and increased release of LDH and CK) and this process is partially mediated by HO-1 upregulation. Furthermore, our data showed that the activation of p38 MAPK and Nrf2 translocation are involved in the HO-1 upregulation induced by DMSO. This study reports for the first time that the cytoprotective effect of DMSO in cardiomyocytes is partially mediated by HO-1, which may further explain the mechanisms by which DMSO exerts cardioprotection on H2O2 injury. J. Cell. Biochem. 115: 1159–1165, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.