Trichosanthin is an abortifacient plant protein purified from the Chinese medicinal herb Tian-hua-fen, obtained from root tubers of Trichosanthes kirilowii (Cucurbitaceae). Recently, trichosanthin has also been used in the treatment of trophoblastic tumours, including hydatidiform mole, invasive mole and choriocarcinoma. We have examined the effects of trichosanthin on cultured cells and observed selective cytotoxic effects on choriocarcinoma cells. Mouse melanoma cells were also sensitive to its cytotoxic action. Cytotoxic effects on cultured cells were usually not prominent after 24 hr treatment. Continued incubation for 48 hr in control culture medium after treatment with trichosanthin enhances the cytotoxicity on cells. Our findings suggest that trichosanthin exerts specific cytotoxic activity towards trophoblastic cells.