Fatty acid synthase (FAS) has been shown previously to be highly expressed in breast and prostate carcinomas, but has low expression level in normal tissues. We also found in this study that FAS was expressed in a number of cancer cell lines of different histotypes. The growth-inhibitory effects of FAS inhibitors cerulenin and C75 were then investigated on these cancer cell lines, particularly the human melanoma A-375. MTT assay revealed that the cancer cell proliferation and viability was reduced dose- and time-dependently by 20.8%-87.1% of the control levels after 24 and 48 h of treatment with 20-160 microM of the inhibitor. Immunoblotting studies showed that both cerulenin and C75 induced poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) cleavage in the melanoma cells dose-dependently. Procaspase-3 was also found to be processed into the active and smaller 17 and 19 kDa subunits, and administration of pan-caspase inhibitor Z-VAD-FMK completely rescued the cells from PARP cleavage. This indicated that the cerulenin- and C75-induced apoptosis involved caspase activation. The proapoptotic effects of the FAS inhibitors were further confirmed using confocal microscopy with annexin-V FITC and propidium iodide staining. DNA flow cytometric studies demonstrated that the FAS inhibitors accumulated G2/M cells preceding the elevation of sub G1 or apoptotic cells with fragmented DNA. The induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis were associated with elevation of p21 and depletion of Bcl-xL and Mcl-1, respectively. Results from this study suggest that FAS inhibitors retard growth of melanoma A-375 cells, involving activation of caspase-dependent apoptosis.