Objectives: Increased mesangial cell proliferation and accumulation of extracellular matrix (ECM) are the major pathological features of early-stage diabetic nephropathy. This study was sought to investigate the inhibitory effects of rhein (RH) on high glucose (HG)-cultured mesangial cells. Specially, we focus on the analysis of proliferation rate, cell cycle regulation, apoptosis, and the expression of collagen IV and laminin. Materials and Methods: The established rat renal mesangial cell (RMC) line was cultured in medium with different concentrations of glucose (5.6 mM or 25 mM) and RH (40 μM, 20 μM, and 10 μM). Pro-treated cells were collected at 12 h, 24 h, and 48 h for cell proliferation analysis and after 24 h for the experiments of flow cytometry, transmission electron microscope, real-time polymerase chain reaction, and Western blotting. Results: Our data shows HG can promote the proliferation of RMCs and RH has an inhibitory effect on HG-induced RMC proliferation and expression of ECM. Based on our data, we hypothesize this inhibitory effect might be a result of cell cycle regulation and the induction of cellular apoptosis. Conclusion: RH can inhibit cellular proliferation and downregulate the expression of ECM under the circumstance of HG. The mechanism of growth suppression may be due to cell cycle arrest at G1phase, induction of cell apoptosis, and upregulation of apoptotic mediators bax and caspase-3.