Thymoquinone (TQ) is likely responsible for the chemotherapeutic effects of N. sativa extract; however, the cellular mechanisms remain ill-defined. TQ-induced cytotoxicity was investigated using canine osteosarcoma (COS31), its cisplatin-resistant variant (COS31/rCDDP), human breast adenocarcinoma (MCF7), human ovarian adenocarcinoma (BG-1) and Madin-Darby canine (MDCK) cell lines. TQ-induced cytotoxicity was determined using a proliferation assay (MTT assay) and apoptosis assays. Effects of TQ on the cell cycle were determined using flow cytometry. COS31/rCDDP resistant cells were the most sensitive cell line to TQ and MDCK cells were the least sensitive. TQ (25 micro M) induced apoptosis of COS31 cells 6 h after treatment and decreased the number of COS31 cells in S-phase and increased cells in G1-phase, indicating cell cycle arrest at G1. These results suggest that TQ kills cancer cells by a process that involves apoptosis and cell cycle arrest. Non-cancerous cells are relatively resistant to TQ.