Berberine, a naturally occurring isoquinoline alkaloid, has been shown to possess anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties in some in vitro systems. Here, we report that in vitro treatment of androgen-insensitive (DU145 and PC-3) and androgen-sensitive (LNCaP) prostate cancer cells with berberine inhibited cell proliferation and induced cell death in a dose-dependent (10-100 micromol/L) and time-dependent (24-72 hours) manner. Treatment of nonneoplastic human prostate epithelial cells (PWR-1E) with berberine under identical conditions did not significantly affect their viability. The berberine-induced inhibition of proliferation of DU145, PC-3, and LNCaP cells was associated with G1-phase arrest, which in DU145 cells was associated with inhibition of expression of cyclins D1, D2, and E and cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk) 2, Cdk4, and Cdk6 proteins, increased expression of the Cdk inhibitory proteins (Cip1/p21 and Kip1/p27), and enhanced binding of Cdk inhibitors to Cdk. Berberine also significantly (P < 0.05-0.001) enhanced apoptosis of DU145 and LNCaP cells with induction of a higher ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 proteins, disruption of mitochondrial membrane potential, and activation of caspase-9, caspase-3, and poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase. Pretreatment with the pan-caspase inhibitor z-VAD-fmk partially, but significantly, blocked the berberine-induced apoptosis, as also confirmed by the comet assay analysis of DNA fragmentation, suggesting that berberine-induced apoptosis of human prostate cancer cells is mediated primarily through the caspase-dependent pathway. The effectiveness of berberine in checking the growth of androgen-insensitive, as well as androgen-sensitive, prostate cancer cells without affecting the growth of normal prostate epithelial cells indicates that it may be a promising candidate for prostate cancer therapy.