Magnolol is the main constituent identified in the barks of Magnolia officinalis, which has been used for the treatment of mental disorders including depression in China. In this study, we investigated the antidepressant-like effect of magnolol, and its possible mechanisms in rats subjected to unpredictable chronic mild stress (UCMS). High performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection (HPLC-ECD) and immunohistochemical staining analysis were applied to explore the mechanisms underlying the antidepressant-like effect of magnolol. Magnolol (20, 40 mg/kg) significantly reversed UCMS-induced reduction in sucrose consumption and deficiency in locomotor activity. In addition, it was observed that administration of magnolol (20, 40 mg/kg) restored brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) expression, and normalized the serotonergic system changes in the UCMS-treated rats. These results confirmed the antidepressant-like effect of magnolol, which might be based primarily on its ability to increase the BDNF expression and enhance the activity of the serotonergic system in rat brains. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.