BACKGROUND : Traditional Chinese medicine Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bunge (AM) has been utilized for the treatment of diabetes mellitus and its complications for centuries. Astragalus polysaccharides (APS), the main bioactive ingredient extracted from the root of AM, is prescribed widely in China and has definite cardioprotective effect during diabetic cardiomyopathy (DCM). Endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress-induced apoptosis played a crucial role in the progression of DCM. However, the regulatory mechanisms of APS on ER stress pathway haven't been comprehensively studied so far. OBJECTIVE : The aim of this study was to identify the effect of APS on cardiomyocyte apoptosis and to investigate the mechanisms for the anti-apoptotic effect of APS during DCM. METHODS : DCM rat model was induced by intraperitoneal streptozotocin (STZ) injection and treated with APS for 16 weeks. Cardiac function, pathological changes and apoptotic cells were assessed by echocardiography, hematoxylin-eosin (HE) staining and TUNEL assay, respectively. Expressions of key molecules in ER stress pathway were detected by Western blot analysis. Cardiomyocytes were exposed to high glucose (HG) and treated with APS for 24 h. Cell viability, apoptosis and protein expressions were assessed by MTT, flow cytometer and Western blot analysis, respectively. Moreover, lentivirus over-expressing (OE) C/EBP homologous protein (CHOP) was employed to further investigate the causative role of ER stress pathway in APS-mediated effect on cardiomyocyte apoptosis. RESULTS : In vivo, the results demonstrated that APS could improve heart function and attenuate myocardial apoptosis in DCM rat model. Further study demonstrated that APS could down-regulate the protein expressions of activating transcription factor 6 (ATF6) and protein kinase RNA-like ER kinase (PERK) related factors of ER stress pathway. In vitro, APS significantly inhibit HG stimulated H9C2 cell apoptosis and the expressions of ATF6 and PERK related proteins of ER stress pathway. However, after CHOP-OE lentivirus transfection, the protective effects of APS were diminished as increased apoptotic rate and higher expression of CHOP. CONCLUSIONS : APS could attenuate cardiomyocyte apoptosis via down-regulating the expression of ATF6 and PERK related factors of ER stress pathway in DCM rats and HG-stimulated H9C2 cells.