The primary function of hepatic stellate cells (HSCs) is the storage of vitamin A. However, they are also responsible for liver fibrosis and are therapeutic targets for treatment of liver cirrhosis. Among the many molecular markers that define quiescent or activated states of HSCs, the characteristics of type III intermediate filaments are of particular interest. Whereas vimentin and desmin are upregulated in activated HSCs, glial fibrillary acidic protein is downregulated in activated HSCs. The functional differences between vimentin and desmin are poorly understood. By time-course quantifications of several molecular markers for HSC activation, we observed that the expression of vimentin preceded that of desmin during the transdifferentiation of HSCs. The immunoreactivity of vimentin in transdifferentiated HSCs was more intense in perinuclear regions compared to that of desmin. We propose that the delayed expression of desmin following the expression of vimentin and the peripheral localization of desmin compared to vimentin are both related to the more extended phenotype of transdifferentiating HSCs observed in vitro.