Lycopene, the major tomato carotenoid, has been found to inhibit proliferation of several types of cancer cells, including those of breast, lung, and endometrium. By extending the work to the HL-60 promyelocytic leukemia cell line, we aimed to evaluate some mechanistic aspects of this effect. Particularly, the possibility was examined that the antiproliferative action of the carotenoid is associated with induction of cell differentiation. Lycopene treatment resulted in a concentration-dependent reduction in HL-60 cell growth as measured by [3H]thymidine incorporation and cell counting. This effect was accompanied by inhibition of cell cycle progression in the G0/G1 phase as measured by flow cytometry. Lycopene alone induced cell differentiation as measured by phorbol ester-dependent reduction of nitro blue tetrazolium and expression of the cell surface antigen CD14. Results of several recent intervention studies with beta-carotene, which have revealed no beneficial effects of this carotenoid, suggest that a single dietary component cannot explain the anticancer effect of diets rich in vegetables and fruits. Thus another goal of our study was to examine whether lycopene has the ability to synergize with other natural anticancer compounds, such as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, which when used alone are therapeutically active only at high and toxic concentrations. The combination of low concentrations of lycopene with 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3 exhibited a synergistic effect on cell proliferation and differentiation and an additive effect on cell cycle progression. Such synergistic antiproliferative and differentiating effects of lycopene and other compounds found in the diet and in plasma may suggest the inclusion of the carotenoid in the diet as a cancer-preventive measure.