Drug resistance is one of the main obstacles to the successful treatment of cancer. The availability of agents that are highly effective against drug-resistant cancer cells is therefore essential. The present study was performed to examine the anticancer effects of evodiamine, a major constituent of the Chinese herb Evodiae fructus, in adriamycin-resistant human breast cancer NCI/ADR-RES cells. Evodiamine inhibited the proliferation of NCI/ADR-RES cells in a concentration-dependent manner with a GI50 of 0.59 +/- 0.11 microM. This agent also caused a substantial apoptosis at 1 microM. FACScan flow cytometric analysis of cell cycle progression revealed that a G2/M arrest was initiated after a 12-h exposure to the drug. Evodiamine increased tubulin polymerization as determined by the immunocytochemical and in vivo tubulin polymerization analyses. In a time- and concentration-dependent manner, evodiamine also promoted the phosphorylations of Raf-1 kinase and Bcl-2. The phosphorylation site of Raf-1 kinase was identified to be serine338. The in vivo anticancer effects of evodiamine were evaluated in Balb-c/nude mice following a tumor xenograft implantation of NCI/ADR-RES cells. The antitumor activity of evodiamine against the human multiple-drug resistant tumor xenograft was found to be superior to that of paclitaxel. Evodiamine therefore represents a highly promising chemotherapeutic agent in the treatment of human multiple-drug resistant cancer cells.