Pancreatic fibrosis, a prominent histopathological feature of chronic pancreatitis (CP) and pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, is essentially a dynamic process that leads to irreversible scarring of parenchymal tissues of the pancreas. Though the exact mechanisms of its initiation and development are poorly understood, recent studies suggested that the activation of pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs) plays a critical role in eliciting such active course of fibrogenesis. Anthraquinone compounds possess anti-inflammatory bioactivities whereas its natural derivative rhein has been shown to effectively reduce tissue edema and free-radical production in rat models of inflammatory conditions. Apart from its anti-inflammatory properties, rhein actually exerts strong anti-fibrotic effects in our current in-vivo and in-vitro experiments. In the mouse model of cerulein-induced CP, prolonged administration of rhein at 50 mg/kg/day significantly decreased immunoreactivities of the principal fibrotic activators alpha-smooth muscle actin (α-SMA) and transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-β) on pancreatic sections implicating the activation of PSCs, which is the central tread to fibrogenesis, was attenuated. Consequently, the overwhelmed deposition of extracellular matrix proteins fibronectin 1 (FN1) and type I collagen (COL I-α1) in exocrine parenchyma was found accordingly reduced. In addition, the expression levels of sonic hedgehog (SHH), which plays important roles in molecular modulation of various fibrotic processes, and its immediate effector GLI1 in pancreatic tissues were positively correlated to the degree of cerulein-induced fibrosis. Such up-regulation of SHH signaling was restrained in rhein-treated CP mice. In cultured PSCs, we demonstrated that the expression levels of TGF-β-stimulated fibrogenic markers including α-SMA, FN1 and COL I-α1 as well as SHH were all notably suppressed by the application of rhein at 10 μM. The present study firstly reported that rhein attenuates PSC activation and suppresses SHH/GLI1 signaling in pancreatic fibrosis. With strong anti-fibrotic effects provided, rhein can be a potential remedy for fibrotic and/or PSC-related pathologies in the pancreas. Copyright © 2013 Tsang et al.