Cardiac glycosides are used clinically to increase contractile force in patients with cardiac disorders. Their mechanism of action is well established and involves inhibition of the plasma membrane Na+/K+-ATPase, leading to alterations in intracellular K+ and Ca(2+) levels. Here, we report that the cardiac glycosides oleandrin, ouabain, and digoxin induce apoptosis in androgen-independent human prostate cancer cell lines in vitro. Cell death was associated with early release of cytochrome c from mitochondria, followed by proteolytic processing of caspases 8 and 3. Oleandrin also promoted caspase activation, detected by cleavage poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase and hydrolysis of a peptide substrate (DEVD-pNA). Comparison of the rates of apoptosis in poorly metastatic PC3 M-Pro4 and highly metastatic PC3 M-LN4 subclones demonstrated that cell death was delayed in the latter because of a delay in mitochondrial cytochrome c release. Single-cell imaging of intracellular Ca(2+) fluxes demonstrated that the proapoptotic effects of the cardiac glycosides were linked to their abilities to induce sustained Ca(2+) increases in the cells. Our results define a novel activity for cardiac glycosides that could prove relevant to the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer.