Little is known about the potentially chemopreventive mechanisms of anthocyanins apart from their antioxidant activity. We investigated the in vitro capacity of the anthocyanin cyanidin-3-O-beta-glucopyranoside (Cy-g) to induce apoptosis in T-lymphoblastoid, as well as apoptosis and differentiation in HL-60 promyelocytic cells. Although Cy-g-induced apoptosis (as well as necrosis) in the two systems, HL-60 cells were much less sensitive than T-lymphoblastoid cells. Moreover, treatment of HL-60 cells with Cy-g caused differentiation into macrophage-like cells and granulocytes. Concerning the mechanism of action, the induction of apoptosis in Jurkat T cells can be explained by a modulation of p53 and bax protein expression. At the molecular level, the induction of apoptosis and cytodifferentiation in HL-60 cells involved different proteins, thus suggesting that the effects of Cy-g on apoptosis and cytodifferentiation induction are two distinct events. These interesting biological properties should encourage further investigation into the chemopreventive and/or chemotherapeutic potential of Cy-g.