Curcumin has been shown to inhibit the growth of various types of cancer cells; however, at concentrations much above the clinically achievable levels in humans. The concentration of curcumin achieved in the plasma after oral administration in humans was estimated to be around 1.8 microM. Here, we report that treatment of BxPC-3 human pancreatic cancer cells with a low and single exposure of 2.5 microM curcumin for 24 h causes significant arrest of cells in the G2/M phase and induces significant apoptosis. Immunoblot studies revealed increased phosphorylation of H2A.X at Ser-139 and Chk1 at Ser-280 and a decrease in DNA polymerase-beta level in curcumin-treated cells. Phosphorylation of H2A.X and Chk1 proteins are an indicator of DNA damage whereas DNA polymerase-beta plays a role in the repair of DNA strand breaks. Normal immortalised human pancreatic ductal epithelial (HPDE-6) cells remained unaffected by curcumin treatment. In addition, we also observed a significant increase in the phosphorylation of Chk1 at Ser-345, Cdc25C at Ser-216 and a subtle increase in ATM phosphorylation at Ser-1981. Concomitant decrease in the expressions of cyclin B1 and Cdk1 were seen in curcumin-treated cells. Further, curcumin treatment caused significant cleavage of caspase-3 and PARP in BxPC-3 but not in HPDE-6 cells. Silencing ATM/Chk1 expression by transfecting BxPC-3 cells with ATM or Chk1-specific SiRNA blocked the phosphorylation of ATM, Chk1 and Cdc25C and protected the cells from curcumin-mediated G2/M arrest and apoptosis. This study reflects the critical role of ATM/Chk1 in curcumin-mediated G2/M cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in pancreatic cancer cells.