Interest in exploiting traditional medicines for prevention or treatment of cancer is increasing. Extracts from the herb Tripterygium wilfordii hook F have been used in China for centuries to treat immune-related disorders. Recently it was reported that triptolide, a purified compound from Tripterygium, possessed antitumor properties and induced apoptosis in a variety of malignant cell lines. K562 cells are usually resistant to apoptosis induction, probably because of the expression of bcr-abl, the hybrid gene characteristic of the Philadelphia chromosome t (9;22). Present studies demonstrate that triptolide inhibited K562 cells proliferation and induced apoptosis in a dose and time-dependent manner. The growth-inhibitory IC50 value for triptolide treatment was 40 ng/ml. Characteristic apoptotic features were confirmed by morphology, internucleosomal DNA fragmentation, and Annexin V Staining. Significantly, triptolide-induced apoptosis of K562 cells was associated with a decline in bcr-abl expression levels, at the concentrations of 20 ng/ml, 40 ng/ml and 80 ng/ml, triptolide was able to decrease the expression of bcr-abl down to 50%, 30% and 20% respectively of the basal value after 72 h. Our findings strongly suggest that triptolide might be an effective therapeutic agent against CML cells.