The growth-inhibitory effects of the astaxanthin-rich Haematococcus pluvialis were studied in HCT-116 colon cancer cells. H. pluvialis extract (5-25 microg/ml) inhibited cell growth in a dose- and time-dependent manner, by arresting cell cycle progression and by promoting apoptosis. At 25 microg/ml of H. pluvialis extract, an increase of p53, p21(WAF-1/CIP-1) and p27 expression (220%, 160%, 250%, respectively) was observed, concomitantly with a decrease of cyclin D1 expression (58%) and AKT phosphorylation (21%). Moreover, the extract, at the same concentration, strongly up-regulated apoptosis by modifying the ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 and Bcl-XL, and increased the phosphorylation of p38, JNK, and ERK1/2 by 160%, 242%, 280%, respectively. Growth-inhibitory effects by H. pluvialis were also observed in HT-29, LS-174, WiDr, SW-480 cells. This study suggests that H. pluvialis may protect from colon cancer.