To investigate the therapeutic effect of glycyrrhizin arginine salt on rat cholestatic cirrhosis, we subjected male Sprague Dawley rats to common bile duct ligation for 14 days and treated them with distilled water (model group), arginine, or a low or high dose of glycyrrhizin arginine salt by gavage. A sham-operated group was used as a control group. Treatment with glycyrrhizin arginine salt substantially improved animal growth rates, reduced the ratio of liver weight to body weight and decreased total bilirubin, aspartate aminotransferase, 8-isoprostane and malondialdehyde compared with the values measured in the model group. The progress of liver fibrosis, as detected by hematoxylin and eosin and Masson's trichrome staining, was slower in the glycyrrhizin arginine salt groups than in the model group or the arginine group. Reductions of bile salt pool size, hepatic hydroxyproline content and fibrosis score were also seen in the glycyrrhizin arginine salt groups compared with the model group. Furthermore, glycyrrhizin arginine salt significantly reduced the expression of transforming growth factor [Formula: see text]1 (TGF-[Formula: see text]1), [Formula: see text]-smooth muscle actin, tumor necrosis factor-[Formula: see text] and matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9. Glycyrrhizin arginine salt also inhibited the expression of [Formula: see text]-SMA and matrix metalloproteinases 2 and 9 in response to TGF-[Formula: see text]1 in LX-2 cells and primary rat hepatic stellate cells and mitigated the cytotoxicity induced by rat bile in HepG2 cells and primary rat hepatocytes.