The prevention of cirrhosis in alcohol-fed baboons by the administration of a soybean extract-43% to 50% of which was dilinoleoyl-phosphatidylcholine (DLPC) and 24% of which was 1, palmitoyl 2, linoleoyl-phosphatidylcholine (PLPC)-was associated with a significant reduction in the number of stellate cells transformed to myofibroblast-like cells. To study whether these two major phospholipids effect the similar transformation that occurs by culturing stellate cells on uncoated plastic, we assessed their effects on proliferation (by (methyl-3H)-thymidine incorporation into DNA), expression of α-smooth muscle actin and type I procollagen (by densitometry of Western blots), and collagen synthesis (by incorporation of tritiated proline into collagenase-digestible proteins). These manifestations of stellate cell activation were decreased by 10 µmol/L DLPC but not by 10 µmol/L PLPC when compared with controls incubated either with 17 mmol/L ethanol (used as solvent for the phospholipids) or without addition. These agents did not affect cell viability, contamination with other cells, or the capacity of stellate cells to synthesize protein. Thus DLPC specifically decreases the in vitro activation of stellate cells, as judged by the decreases in proliferation activity, α-smooth muscle actin and procollagen I expressions, and collagen synthesis, whereas PLPC did not show such effects. α1-Procollagen (type I) mRNA was not affected by PLPC, suggesting a post-translational effect. The reduction in the activation of hepatic stellate cells by DLPC may be responsible for, or at least contribute to, the prevention of fibrosis by the polyenylphosphatidylcholine mixture administered in vivo.