Paeonia suffruticosa has been traditionally employed for vitalizing blood circulation and alleviating liver and inflammatory diseases. The pathways by which palbinone (PB) isolated from P. suffruticosa mediates heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) induction were investigated using the specific inhibitors for PI3K and mitogen activated protein kinases pathways. The effect of PB-treatment on Nrf2 translocalization and HO-1-antioxidant response element (ARE) regulation was examined employing Western blot and luciferase assays. PB induced HO-1 expression via the activation of Nrf2 in the hepatic cells, and ARE-dependent genes were stimulated via the PB-mediated Nrf2 activation. PB-mediated HO-1 expression could be involved with PI3K/Akt and ERK1/2 pathways. Our study suggests the mechanism by which PB induces HO-1 expression in the hepatic cells. This might substantiate the traditional applications of P. suffruticosa for the treatment of oxidative stress-related diseases including oxidant and inflammatory-mediated vascular and liver diseases. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.