BACKGROUND: The present investigation was undertaken to evaluate the protective effect of propofol and etomidate against hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) induced oxidative damage in human hepatic SNU761 cells by measuring lactate dehydrogenase (LDH). METHODS: The cell line of human hepatocellular carcinoma was grown for 24 hours in dissociated cell culture. They were divided into eight groups: negative control (NC) group with no drug administration, positive control (PC) group with H2O2 250 micrometer and other groups pretreated with propofol (P; 1, 10, 50 micrometer) or etomidate (ET; 1, 10, 50 micrometer) followed H2O2 administration. After 7 hours, cell death was assessed by morphology under the light microscope and quantified by measuring the LDH in the culture media. RESULTS: In the light microscopic findings, the intact cells were increased in all three propofol groups compared to group PC. H2O2-induced LDH production was also significantly suppressed in all three propofol groups compared to group PC (P < 0.001). There were no significant differences in the microscopic findings and LDH production between the etomidate groups and group PC. CONCLUSIONS: These results suggest that the propofol has protective effect on the hepatocyte against H2O2-induced oxidative stress.