Cordyceps militaris is a traditional herbal ingredient frequently used for tonic and medicinal purposes in eastern Asia. The hot water extract of its cultivated fruiting bodies demonstrated a potent cytotoxic effect against the proliferation of the human premyelocytic leukemia cell HL-60, with an IC50 of 0.8 mg/ml for a 12-h treatment. It induced the characteristic apoptotic symptoms in the HL-60 cells, including DNA fragmentation and chromatin condensation, occurring within 12-16 h of treatment at a dose of 1 mg/ml. The activation of caspase-3 and the specific proteolytic cleavage of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase were detected during the course of apoptosis induction. These results indicate that the hot water extract of Cordyceps militaris fruiting bodies inhibited cancer cell proliferation by inducing cell apoptosis through the activation of caspase-3, and that the Cordyceps militaris extract may therefore have therapeutic potential against human leukemia.