Sanguinarine is a benzophenanthridine alkaloid derived from the root of Sanguinaria canadensis and other poppy-fumaria species, possessing potent antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory activities. In this study, we investigated the underling mechanisms by which sanguinarine induce apoptosis in human breast cancer MDA-231 cells. Treatment of MDA-231 cells with sanguinarine induced remarkable apoptosis accompanying the generation of ROS. Consistently, sanguinarine-induced apoptosis was mediated by the increased reproductive cell death. Pretreatment with NAC or GSH attenuated sanguinarine-induced apoptosis, suggesting the involvement of ROS in this cell death. During sanguinarin-induced apoptosis, protein levels of pro-caspase-3, Bcl-2, cIAP2, XIAP, and c-FLIPs were reduced. Sanguinarine-mediated apoptosis was substantially blocked by ectopic expression of Bcl-2 and cFLIPs. Additionally, we found that sub-lethal doses of sanguinarine remarkably sensitized breast cancer cells to TRAIL-mediated apoptosis, but the cell death induced by sanguinarine and TRAIL in combination was not blocked by overexpression of Bcl-2 or Akt. Therefore, combinatory treatment of sanguinarine and TRAIL may overcome the resistance of breast cancer cells due to overexpression of Akt or Bcl-2. J. Cell. Biochem. 104: 895–907, 2008. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.