Currently, at the beginning of the 21st century, obesity has become the leading metabolic disease in the world. It is a serious health problem in industrialized countries. Previous research has suggested that decreased preadipocyte differentiation and proliferation and decreased lipogenesis are mechanisms to reduce obesity. In the present study, the effects of capsaicin on the induction of apoptosis and inhibition of lipid accumulation in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes and adipocytes were investigated. The results demonstrated that capsaicin decreased cell population growth of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes, assessed with the MTT assay. Flow cytometric analysis of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes exposed to capsaicin showed that apoptotic cells increased in a time- and dose-dependent manner. Treatment with capsaicin decreased the number of normal cells and increased the number of early apoptotic and late apoptotic cells in a dose-dependent manner. The treatment of cells with capsaicin caused the loss of mitochondria membrane potential (delta psi m). The induction of apoptosis in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes by capsaicin was mediated through the activation of caspase-3, Bax, and Bak, and then through the cleavage of PARP and the down-regulation of Bcl-2. Moreover, capsaicin significantly decreased the amount of intracellular triglycerides and glycerol-3-phosphate dehydrogenase (GPDH) activity in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Capsaicin also inhibited the expression of PPARgamma, C/EBPalpha, and leptin, but induced up-regulation of adiponectin at the protein level. These results demonstrate that capsaicin efficiently induces apoptosis and inhibits adipogenesis in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes and adipocytes.