This study aimed to examine whether hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) can improve renal function in 5/6 nephrectomized rats and investigate whether this function is associated with a decrease in α-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) expression in rat glomerulus mesangial cells and renal interstitium. Rats were randomly divided into the following groups: control, PCI-neo, sham-operation, 5/6 nephrectomy, and low-dose and high-dose PCI-neo-HGF. Rats were killed in the ninth week after 5/6 nephrectomy, and the kidney specimens were subjected to pathological examination by Hematoxylin-Eosin staining and detection of α-SMA expression by reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), Western blot, and immunohistochemistry. The results showed that blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine levels were increased, renal interstitium was injured, and α-SMA expression was elevated in 5/6 nephrectomized rats compared with that in control. The above changes were ameliorated in the rats injected with PCI-neo-HGF vector. At the molecular level we found that PCI-neo-HGF repressed α-SMA expression in mesangial cells stimulated by lipopolysaccharide. In conclusion, our data suggest that HGF can relieve chronic renal failure, and this protection is associated with the down-regulation of α-SMA expression in mesangial cells and renal interstitium.