We determined the effects of emodin on the cell viability, respiratory burst activity, mRNA levels of antioxidative enzymes (Cu-Zn SOD, CAT and NOX2), and gene expressions of the Nrf2-Keap1 signaling molecules in the peripheral blood leukocytes of blunt snout bream. Triplicate groups of cultured cells were treated with different concentrations of emodin (0.04–25 μg/ml) for 24 h. Results showed that the emodin caused a dramatic loss in cell viability, and occurred in a dose-dependent manner. Emodin exposure (1–25 μg/ml) were significantly induced the ROS generation compared to the control. The respiratory burst and NADPH oxidase activities were significantly induced at a concentration of 0.20 μg/ml, and inhibited at 25 μg/ml. Besides, mRNA levels of antioxidant enzyme genes were dramatically regulated by emodin exposure for 24 h. During low concentrations of exposure, mRNA levels of Cu-Zn SOD in the cells treated with 0.04, 0.20 μg/ml, CAT, NOX2 and Nrf2 in the cells treated with 1 μg/ml were sharply increased, respectively. Whereas, high concentrations were dramatically down-regulated the gene expressions of CAT in the cells treated with 5, 25 μg/ml and NOX2 in the cells treated with 25 μg/ml. Furthermore, sharp increase in Keap1and Bach1 expression levels were observed a dose-dependent manner. In conclusion, this study demonstrated that emodin could induce antioxidant defenses which were involved in cytotoxic activities, respiratory burst and the transcriptional regulation levels of antioxidant enzymes and Nrf2-Keap1 signaling molecules.