Novel chemotherapeutic agents derived from active phytochemicals could be used as adjuvants and improve the anti-carcinogenicity of standard drug treatments. However, their precise mechanisms of action are sometimes unclear. In this study, the anti-carcinogenic effect of the herbal diterpenoid pseudolaric acid B (PAB) on the growth and apoptosis of colon cancer cells was investigated, and to compare that with the more toxic compound triptolide. PAB induced growth inhibition and apoptosis in HT-29 cells, which were associated with cell cycle arrest at the G(2)/M phase, modulation of cyclin expression and downregulation of the protooncogene c-myc. In addition, PAB also inhibited bcl-x(L) expression, induced cleavage of procaspase-3 and its substrate poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP), which together caused DNA fragmentation and nuclear chromatin condensation. Concomitantly, the modulation of the growth-related and apoptotic factors by PAB was accompanied by the increased protein and gene expression of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug-activated gene (NAG-1), which occurred along with cyclooxygenase-2 inhibition. The effects of PAB on PARP cleavage and NAG-1 overexpression were not reversible upon removal of the drug from the culture medium. Similar cytotoxic and pro-apoptotic effects were also attained by treating the HT-29 cells with another diterpenoid triptolide, but its actions on cell cycle progression and on the upstream transcriptional regulation of NAG-1 both took place in a less coherent manner. These findings exemplify the potential of herbal terpenoids, particularly PAB, in modulating colon cancer carcinogenesis through known molecular targets and precise mechanism of action.