Tanshinones are a group of bioactive abietane-type norditerpenoid quinone compounds in Salvia miltiorrhiza. Copalyldiphosphate synthase of S. miltiorrhiza (SmCPS) is the first key enzyme in tanshinone biosynthesis from the universal diterpene precursor geranylgeranyl diphosphate. Hairy roots of S. miltiorrhiza were transformed with Agrobacterium rhizogenes carrying an RNA interference (RNAi) construct designed to silence SmCPS, and we examined the resulting SmCPS expression and tanshinone accumulation. In SmCPS–RNAi hairy roots, the transcript level of SmCPS was reduced to 26 % while the dihydrotanshinone I and cryptotanshinone levels were decreased by 53 and 38 % compared to those of the vector control hairy roots; tanshinone IIA was not detected. Therefore, the decreased expression of SmCPS caused a decrease in tanshinone levels which verifies that SmCPS is a key enzyme for tanshinone biosynthesis in S. miltiorrhiza.