Falconensones A and B are a new type of yellow pigment with structural similarity to retinoic acid isolated from the mycelial extract of ascomycetous fungi, Emericella falconensis or Emericella fruticulosa. In the present study we show that falconensone A alone induced apoptosis of HL60 human leukemia cells, while falconensone B, the 4'-nor-methyl derivative of falconensone A, had much lower activity. The synthetic derivatives of falconensone A, falconensone A p-bromophenylhydrazone and falconensone A dioxime, were more potent than natural falconensone A and B as far as the induction of apoptosis was concerned. The induction of apoptosis by the falconensones correlated with their inhibition of cell growth. In addition, falconensones A and B, and falconensone A dioxime, increased the generation of intracellular reactive oxygen species, while falconensone A p-bromophenylhydrazone was inactive. These results suggest that falconensone A, falconensone A p-bromophenylhydrazone and falconensone A dioxime are potential new apoptosis-inducing agents. The enhanced generation of reactive oxygen species in cells may be involved in apoptosis induced by falconensone A and falconensone A dioxime, but not by falconensone A p-bromophenylhydrazone. It is also suggested that the methyl residue at the 4' position of the falconensone A cyclopentenone ring may be essential for the induction of apoptosis. Based on these results, falconensone A and its derivatives may be clinically useful in the treatment of some leukemias.