The hepatic stellate cell (HSC), the pericyte of the liver sinusoids belongs to the mesenchymal cells of the liver. Damaging noxae induce a transformation from the quiescent (vitamin A-storing cell) to the activated (connective tissue-producing cell) state. The balance between proapoptotic and surviving factors decides about the fate of the activated HSC. Interferon-alpha (IFN-alpha) has been shown to elicit antiproliferative and/or antifibrogenic effects in various cell types of mesenchymal origin. We therefore investigated the effect of IFN-alpha on primary cultured rat HSC in their quiescent (day 2) and activated state (day 7). IFN-alpha significantly inhibited spontaneous apoptosis in activated HSC in vitro and simultaneously inhibited cell cycle progression by inducing a G1 arrest. The effect of IFN-a is not accompanied by a modulation of CD95, CD95L, p53, p21(WAF1), p27, bcl-2, bcl-xL, bax, NFkappaB, or IkappaB gene expression. Surprisingly, the IFN-alpha effect could be abolished completely by blocking JAK2 activity or JAK2 translation. The downregulating effect of IFN-alpha on the activity of caspase-8 and caspase-3 could also be neutralized using tyrphostin AG490 or JAK-2 antisense. Taken together IFN-alpha inhibits apoptosis of activated HSC by activation of JAK2 which inhibits the caspase-8 apoptosis pathway.