Heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1) is the rate-limiting enzyme in heme catabolism, which leads to the generation of carbon monoxide (CO), biliverdin, and free iron. One of 3 mammalian HO isoforms, HO-1, is a stress-responsive protein and known to modulate such cellular functions as cytokine production, cell proliferation, and apoptosis to protect organs and tissues from acute injury. Although nitric oxide (NO)-mediated cytoprotective effects against cytotoxicity induced by glucose deprivation have been well recognized, the underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated. Thus, we investigate the involvement of HO-1 in the cytoprotective effects of NO. Deprivation of glucose markedly reduced the viability of BNL CL.2 cells and primary rat hepatocytes. Pretreatment with NO donor, sodium nitroprusside (SNP), protected hepatocytes from glucose deprivation-induced cytotoxicity; zinc protoporphyrin (ZnPP) IX, an inhibitor of HO, was found to block the SNP-induced cytoprotection. SNP increased the induction of HO-1 protein as well as its activity in hepatocytes. A cytoprotective effect comparable to SNP was observed when the cells were transfected with HO-1 gene or preincubated with another HO-1 inducer, hemin. Additional experiments revealed the involvement of CO in the cytoprotective effect of SNP/HO-1 in BNL CL.2 cells. CO mediated cytoprotective effect through suppression of ERK MAPK activation. In conclusion, our results show that SNP protects hepatocytes from glucose deprivation-induced cytotoxicity through up-regulation of HO-1. Thus, HO-1 might be an important cellular target of NO donor with clinical implications for the prevention of acute liver injury in several pathological conditions.