Artemisinin and its analogue dihydroartemisinin exert cytotoxic effects in some kinds of cancer cell lines. Here we determined whether dihydroartemisinin inhibits the growth and induces apoptosis of rat C6 glioma cells. We found dihydroartemisinin (5-25 microM) inhibited the growth and induced apoptosis of C6 cells in a concentration- and time-dependent manner; however, it was much less toxic to rat primary astrocytes. Dihydroartemisinin (5-25 microM) also increased the generation of reactive oxygen species in C6 cells. These effects of dihydroartemisinin were enhanced by ferrous ions (12.5-100 microM) and reduced by the iron chelator deferoxamine (25-200 microM). Immunoblotting analysis revealed that dihydroartemisinin (5-25 microM) significantly reduced hypoxia- and deferoxamine-induced expression of hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha and its target gene protein, vascular endothelial growth factor, in C6 cells. The results showed that dihydroartemisinin exerts a selective cytotoxic effect on C6 cells by increasing the reactive oxygen species and inhibiting hypoxia inducible factor-1alpha activation.