ARTICLE ABSTRACTCryptotanshinone (CPT), a natural compound isolated from the plant Salvia miltiorrhiza Bunge, is a potential anticancer agent. However, the underlying mechanism is not well understood. Here, we show that CPT induced caspase-independent cell death in human tumor cells (Rh30, DU145, and MCF-7). Besides downregulating antiapoptotic protein expression of survivin and Mcl-1, CPT increased phosphorylation of p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) and c-jun N-terminal kinase (JNK), and inhibited phosphorylation of extracellular signal–regulated kinases 1/2 (Erk1/2). Inhibition of p38 with SB202190 or JNK with SP600125 attenuated CPT-induced cell death. Similarly, silencing p38 or c-Jun also in part prevented CPT-induced cell death. In contrast, expression of constitutively active mitogen-activated protein kinase kinase 1 (MKK1) conferred resistance to CPT inhibition of Erk1/2 phosphorylation and induction of cell death. Furthermore, we found that all of these were attributed to CPT induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS). This is evidenced by the findings that CPT induced ROS in a concentration- and time-dependent manner; CPT induction of ROS was inhibited by N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC), a ROS scavenger; and NAC attenuated CPT activation of p38/JNK, inhibition of Erk1/2, and induction of cell death. The results suggested that CPT induction of ROS activates p38/JNK and inhibits Erk1/2, leading to caspase-independent cell death in tumor cells. Cancer Prev Res; 5(5); 778–87. ©2012 AACR.