Pharmacologically safe compounds that can inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells have potential as anticancer agents. Curcumin, a diferuloylmethane, is a major active component of the food flavor turmeric (Curcuma longa) that exhibits anticarcinogenic properties in vivo. In vitro, it suppressed c-jun/Ap-1 and NF-kappaB activation and type 1 human immunodeficiency virus long-terminal repeat-directed gene expression. We examined the antiproliferative effects of curcumin against several breast tumor cell lines, including hormone-dependent and -independent and multidrug-resistant (MDR) lines. Cell growth inhibition was monitored by [3H]thymidine incorporation, Trypan blue exclusion, crystal violet dye uptake and flow cytometry. All the cell lines tested, including the MDR-positive ones, were highly sensitive to curcumin. The growth inhibitory effect of curcumin was time- and dose-dependent, and correlated with its inhibition of ornithine decarboxylase activity. Curcumin preferentially arrested cells in the G2/S phase of the cell cycle. Curcumin-induced cell death was neither due to apoptosis nor to any significant change in the expression of apoptosis-related genes, including Bcl-2, p53, cyclin B and transglutaminase. Overall our results suggest that curcumin is a potent antiproliferative agent for breast tumor cells and may have potential as an anticancer agent.