Natural plant products occupy a very important position in the area of cancer chemotherapy. Many triterpenoid saponins have been proved as potential agents for chemopreven?tion and therapy of breast cancer. α-hederin, a monodesmosidic triterpenoid saponin distributed in Hedera or Nigella species, displays many biological activities. It is increasingly investi?gated for its promising anticancer potential since it has been shown to have cytotoxicity against several types of cancer cells. However, studies of α-hederin on breast cancer are limited, most of which focus on biological activity, while the mechanisms have not been widely reported yet. Previously, we purified and identified α-hederin from Clematis ganpiniana, a herb used in traditional Chinese medicine with antitumor action. In the present study, α-hederin showed strong inhibitory activity on the growth of breast cancer cells and induced apoptosis in these cells. α-hederin induced depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential which released Apaf-1 and cytochrome c from the intermembrane space into the cytosol, where they promoted caspase-3 and caspase-9 activation. This is the first report on the growth inhibition and pro-apoptotic effects of α-hederin on breast cancer cells and the relative apoptosis path?ways. It implied that triterpenoid saponin α-hederin could be a promising candidate for chemotherapy of breast cancer.