Alternol is a novel compound purified from the fermentation products of a microorganism in the yew tree bark. This study looks at the effects of alternol on the proliferation and cell cycle distribution of mouse melanoma cells. The inhibition of cell proliferation and changes in cell cycle distribution were analysed by sulforhodamine B and flow cytometry assays, respectively. mRNA expression of cyclin A, cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (CDK2), proliferating cell nuclear antigen (PCNA) and CDK inhibitor1A (p21) were measured by real-time reverse transcription PCR (RT-PCR). The protein levels of cyclin A, CDK2 and PCNA were analysed by Western blot analysis. p21 was measured by ELISA. Alternol treatment caused a significant decrease in the proliferation rate of B16F0 and B16F10 cells, which were significantly arrested in S phase, but this treatment had less effect on normal human embryonic kidney 293T cells. The mechanism by which alternol inhibits B16F0 proliferation in vitro may be associated with the inhibition of CDK2 and PCNA, and the activation of p21.