Sclareol, a labdane-type diterpene, was tested for cytotoxic effect against a panel of established human leukemic cell lines. The compound showed an IC50 lower than 20 microg/ml in most cell lines tested, while it was higher for resting peripheral blood mononuclear leukocytes (PBML). Furthermore, the compound was tested for cytostatic activity against four of the leukemic cell lines used. At a concentration of 20 microg/ml the compound showed a significant cytostatic effect as soon as 4 h after continuous incubation against two from B and two from T lineage cell lines. The morphology and the kind of death induced from sclareol in three cell lines, was also investigated. The effect of sclareol on the cell cycle progression of two cell lines, using flow cytometry, was examined. The results show that sclareol kills cell lines, through the process of apoptosis. The appearance of the apoptotic signs is time and dose dependent. From the flow cytometry experiments, a delay of the cell population on G0/1 seems to take place. This is the first report, that a labdane type diterpene kills tumor cells via a phase specific mechanism which induces apoptosis.