Targeting the mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPKs) has been suggested as a novel strategy to treat cancer. Chlorophyllin (CHL) is the sodium-copper salt of chlorophyll derivative and is a commonly used food dye for green coloration; CHL was found previously to retard growth of the human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells. Extracellular signal-regulated kinases (ERKs) constitute a subfamily of MAPKs, participating in cell survival, proliferation and differentiation. We report here the first evidence that CHL deactivates ERKs to inhibit the breast cancer cell proliferation. The results from flow cytometry showed that 200 microg/ml CHL reduced the phosphorylated and activated ERK-positive cells in different cell cycle phases from the control of >96 to <38% at 24 h of incubation; the ERK deactivations occurred in both dose- and time-dependent manner, so that nearly all ERKs were de-activated by 400 microg/ml CHL at 72 h of treatment. Immunoblot studies, however, illustrated that the levels of total ERKs were not significantly affected by the CHL treatments, suggesting that the phytochemical retards the enzyme activation rather than its expression. Cyclin D1, but not its enzyme Cdk6, was also depleted after the CHL treatments; the depletions were associated with elevations of G0/G1 cells. Apoptosis occurred time-dependently with the ERK deactivations by 400 microg/ml CHL; the apoptotic cells elevated from 2.7-fold of the control level at 24 h, to 4.7-fold at 48 h and to 16.6-fold at 72 h of treatment. Bcl-2 was also depleted at 72 h when there was the most prominent elevation of the apoptotic cells, suggesting that it participates during the exacerbation rather than the initiation phases of the CHL-induced apoptosis. Results from this study support further research on CHL for preventing and treating those tumors with deregulated ERK activations.