Exposure to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) represents a potential health risk and hepatotoxicity. Astaxanthin (ASTA) exhibits antioxidant properties and can influence hepatotoxicity. Therefore, the present study was carried out for using ASTA against hepatotoxicity induced by TCDD in the liver of rats. Animals were treated intraperitoneally daily with TCDD (8 mu g/kg body weight (b.w.)), ASTA (12.5 mg/kg b.w. and 25 mg/kg b.w.) and TCDD plus ASTA (12.5 and 25 mg/kg b.w.) for 21 days. TCDD significantly decreased the activities of antioxidant enzymes and resulted in serious pathological findings. Moreover, the rate of micronucleus (MN) in hepatocytes increased after treating with TCDD. The activities of enzymes, frequencies of MNs and liver histology in lower dosage group of ASTA remained unchanged compared with the control group. In rats treated with ASTA, at higher dosage alone, the MNs remained unchanged and the activities of antioxidant enzymes significantly increased. The presence of ASTA (except for lower dose) with TCDD alleviated its pathological effects in hepatic tissue. ASTA also prevented the suppression of antioxidant enzymes in the livers of animals exposed to TCDD and displayed a strong protective effect against MNs. Thus, the present findings might provide new insight into the development of therapeutic and preventive approaches of TCDD toxicity.