Curcumin, a well-known dietary pigment derived from Curcuma longa, has been shown to be a potent antiinflammatory, antioxidant, and anticarcinogenic compound. The present study was designed to investigate the cytotoxic potential of curcumin against a range of human tumor cell lines in an attempt to understand its mechanism of action, which may lead to its possible therapeutic applications. We have shown that different cancer cell lines differ in their sensitivity to curcumin. Cell lines established from malignancies like leukemia, breast, colon, hepatocellular, and ovarian carcinomas underwent apoptosis in the presence of curcumin, whereas cell lines from lung, kidney, prostate, cervix, CNS malignancies, and melanomas showed resistance to the cytotoxic effects of curcumin. Sensitivity of the cancer cell lines to curcumin correlated with the generation of superoxide radicals as determined by the reduction of ferricytochrome C. Curcumin-resistant tumor cell lines showed significantly higher production of Hsp70, thus mounting a stress response and protecting the cells from the apoptotic cell death. These observations yield clues toward understanding the regulation of the cell death machinery by the stress proteins. Interestingly, curcumin had no effect on nontransformed cell lines, which showed neither superoxide generation nor the induction of a stress response. These observations demonstrate that curcumin is an interesting molecule with varied actions, depending on the cell type.