Curcumin, the active ingredient of the rhizome of the plant turmeric (Curcuma longa Linn), a commonly used spice, prevents cancer in animal tumor models. Its mechanism of action is unknown; curcumin may act by inhibiting arachidonic acid metabolism. To explore the mechanism of curcumin's chemopreventive effect, we studied its role in proliferation and apoptosis in the HT-29 and HCT-15 human colon cancer cell lines. Curcumin dose-dependently reduced the proliferation rate of both cell lines, causing a 96% decrease by 48 hours. No apoptosis was detected. The antiproliferative effect was preceded by accumulation of the cells in the G2/M phase of cell cycle. The effect of curcumin was similar in both cell lines, which, however, differ in their ability to produce prostaglandins. We conclude that curcumin inhibits colon cancer cell proliferation in vitro mainly by accumulating cells in the G2/M phase and that this effect is independent of its ability to inhibit prostaglandin synthesis. The role of curcumin's antiproliferative effect in human colon cancer remains to be established.