Curcumin, a phenolic compound from the rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer activities. Although the precise mode of action of this compound is not yet elucidated, studies have shown that chemo-preventive action of curcumin might be due to its ability to induce apoptosis and to arrest cell cycle. This study investigated the cellular and molecular changes induced by curcumin leading to the induction of apoptosis in human lung cancer cell lines-A549 and H1299. A549 is p53 proficient and H1299 is p53 null mutant. The lung cancer cells were treated with curcumin (0-160 microM) for 12-72 h. Curcumin inhibited the growth of both the cell lines in a concentration dependent manner. Growth inhibition of H1299 cell lines was both time and concentration dependent. Curcumin induced apoptosis in both the lung cancer cell lines. A decrease in expression of p53, bcl-2, and bcl-X(L) was observed after 12 h exposure of 40 microM curcumin. Bak and Caspase genes remained unchanged up to 60 microM curcumin but showed decrease in expression levels at 80-160 microM. The data also suggest a p53 independent induction of apoptosis in lung cancer cells.