The current study explored the protective effect of leucine on antioxidant status, apoptosis and tight junction damage in the gill of grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella Val.). The trial was conducted by feeding grass carp with six graded level of leucine (7.1, 8.9, 11.0, 13.3, 15.2 and 17.1 g kg−1 diet) for 8 weeks. The fish were fed to apparent satiation 4 times per day. The results indicated that compared with the leucine deficiency group, 8.9–11.3 g leucine kg−1 diet supplementations decreased protein carbonyl (PC), malondialdehyde (MDA) and ROS contents, which may be partially attributed to the improvement of antioxidant status in the gill by increasing hydroxyl radical capacity and anti-superoxide radicals, glutathione contents and the activities and mRNA levels of Cu/Zn superoxide dismutase (SOD1), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), catalase (CAT), glutathione-S-transferase (GST) and glutathione reductase (GR), that referring to the up-regulation of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) mRNA expression. Moreover, leucine deficiency induced DNA fragmentation via the up-regulation of caspase-3, caspase-8 and caspase-9 expressions and down-regulation of target of rapamycin and ribosomal S6 protein kinase 1 expressions. Furthermore, leucine deficiency increased interleukin-1β (IL-1β), interleukin-8 (IL-8) and tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) mRNA expression and decreased IL-10 and transforming growth factor β (TGF-β), which was partly related to nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) and its inhibitor (IκB). In contrast, the relative mRNA expression of IL-1, IL-8 and TNF-α was down-regulated with 8.9–11.3 g leucine kg−1 diet supplementations. Finally, the relative mRNA expression of tight junction protein, including occludin, zonula occludens-1, claudin b, claudin 3 and claudin 12 was up-regulated with leucine diet supplementations. Our results indicate that leucine protected the fish gill structural integrity partially because of the inhibition of apoptosis, the improvement of antioxidant status, the regulation of tight junction protein and related signalling molecules mRNA expressions in the fish gill.