Oxidative stress has been implicated as a major mechanism underlying the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative disorders. ROS (reactive oxygen species) can cause cell death via apoptosis. NGF (nerve growth factor) differentiated rat PC12 cells have been extensively used to study the differentiation and apoptosis of neurons. This study has investigated the protective effects of puerarin in H2O2-induced apoptosis of differentiated PC12 cells, and the possible molecular mechanisms involved. Differentiated PC12 cells were incubated with 700 μM H2O2 in the absence or presence of different doses of puerarin (4, 8 and 16 μM). Apoptosis was assessed by MTS [3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-5-(3-carboxymethoxyphenyl)-2-(4-sulfophenyl)-2H-tetrazolium] assay, TUNEL (terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP nick-end labelling) analysis and Annexin V-PI (propidium iodide) double staining flow cytometry. Protein levels of phospho-Akt and phospho-BAD (Bcl-2/Bcl-XL-antagonist, causing cell death) were assayed by Western blotting. After stimulation with H2O2 for 18 h, the viability of differentiated PC12 cells decreased significantly and a large number of cells underwent apoptosis. Differentiated PC12 cells were rescued from H2O2-induced apoptosis at different concentrations of puerarin in a dose-dependent manner. This was through increased production of phospho-Akt and phospho-BAD, an effect that could be reversed by wortmannin, an inhibitor of PI3K (phosphoinositide 3-kinase). The results suggest that puerarin may have neuroprotective effect through activation of the PI3K/Akt signalling pathway.