Ribavirin (RBV) is a potential partner of interferon (IFN)-based therapy for patients with chronic hepatitis C. However, to date, its anti-hepatitis C virus (HCV) mechanism remains ambiguous due to the marginal activity of RBV on HCV RNA replication in HuH-7-derived cells, which are currently used as the only cell culture system for robust HCV replication. We investigated the anti-HCV activity of RBV using novel cell assay systems. The recently discovered human hepatoma cell line, Li23, which enables robust HCV replication, and the recently developed Li23-derived drug assay systems (ORL8 and ORL11), in which the genome-length HCV RNA (O strain of genotype 1b) encoding renilla luciferase efficiently replicates, were used for this study. At clinically achievable concentrations, RBV unexpectedly inhibited HCV RNA replication in ORL8 and ORL11 systems, but not in OR6 (an HuH-7-derived assay system). The anti-HCV activity of RBV was almost cancelled by an inhibitor of equilibrative nucleoside transporters. The evaluation of the anti-HCV mechanisms of RBV proposed to date using ORL8 ruled out the possibility that RBV induces error catastrophe, the IFN-signaling pathway or oxidative stress. However, we found that the anti-HCV activity of RBV was efficiently canceled with guanosine, and demonstrated that HCV RNA replication was notably suppressed in inosine monophosphate dehydrogenase (IMPDH)-knockdown cells, suggesting that the antiviral activity of RBV is mediated through the inhibition of IMPDH. In conclusion, we demonstrated for the first time that inhibition of IMPDH is a major antiviral target by which RBV at clinically achievable concentrations inhibits HCV replication.