Human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1)-associated adult T-cell leukemia (ATL) is resistant to conventional chemotherapy. We examined the in vitro effects of capsaicin, the principal ingredients of red pepper, on three ATL cell lines. Capsaicin treatment inhibited the growth of ATL cells both in dose- and time-dependent manner. The inhibitory effect was mainly due to the induction of cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Capsaicin treatment also induced the degradation of Tax and up-regulation of I kappa-B alpha, resulting in the decrease of nuclear factor (NF)-kappa B/p65 DNA binding activity. In addition, the Bcl-2 level was found to be decreased. Based on these findings, capsaicin may be considered for chemoprevention of ATL.