Zerumbone found in subtropical ginger Zingiber zerumbet Smith exhibits antiproliferative and antiinflammatory activities but underlying molecular mechanisms are poorly understood. As several genes that regulate proliferation and apoptosis are regulated by nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB, we hypothesized that zerumbone mediates its activity through the modulation of NF-kappaB activation. We found that zerumbone suppressed NF-kappaB activation induced by tumor necrosis factor (TNF), okadaic acid, cigarette smoke condensate, phorbol myristate acetate, and H2O2 and that the suppression was not cell type specific. Interestingly, alpha-humulene, a structural analogue of zerumbone lacking the carbonyl group, was completely inactive. Besides being inducible, constitutively active NF-kappaB was also inhibited. NF-kappaB inhibition by zerumbone correlated with sequential suppression of the IkappaBalpha kinase activity, IkappaBalpha phosphorylation, IkappaBalpha degradation, p65 phosphorylation, p65 nuclear translocation, and p65 acylation. Zerumbone also inhibited the NF-kappaB-dependent reporter gene expression activated by TNF, TNFR1, TRADD, TRAF2, NIK, and IKK but not that activated by the p65 subunit of NF-kappaB. NF-kappaB-regulated gene products, such as cyclin D1, COX-2, MMP-9, ICAM-1, c-Myc, survivin, IAP1, IAP2, XIAP, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, Bfl-1/A1, TRAF1 and FLIP, were all downregulated by zerumbone. This downregulation led to the potentiation of apoptosis induced by cytokines and chemotherapeutic agents. Zerumbone's inhibition of expression of these NF-kappaB-regulated genes also correlated with the suppression of TNF-induced invasion activity. Overall, our results indicated that zerumbone inhibits the activation of NF-kappaB and NF-kappaB-regulated gene expression induced by carcinogens and that this inhibition may provide a molecular basis for the prevention and treatment of cancer by zerumbone.