OBJECTIVE To explore the effect of Withaferin A on A549 cellular proliferation and apoptosis in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). MATERIALS AND METHODS NSCNC cell line A549 was selected to explore the effect of Withaferin A on A549 cellular proliferation, apoptosis and the PI3K/Akt signal pathway capable of regulating tumor biological behavior by assessment of cellular proliferation, cellular apoptotic rates and cellular cycling as well as by immuno-blotting. RESULTS Withaferin A could inhibit A549 cellular proliferation and the control rate was dosage-dependent (P<0.05), which also increased time-dependently with the same dosage of Withaferin A (P<0.05). The apoptotic indexes in A549 cells treated with 0, 2.5, 5.0, 10.0 and 20.0 μmol·L-1 Withaferin A for 48 h were significantly different (P<0.05). In addition, the apoptotic rates of each group in both early and advanced stages were higher than those in 0 μmol·L-1 (P<0.05), which were evidently higher after 48 h than those after 24 h (P<0.05). A549 cells treated by Withaferin A for 48 h were markedly lower in Bcl-2 level and obviously higher in Bax and cleaved caspase-3 levels than those treated by 0 μmol·L-1 Withaferin A (P<0.05), and there were significant differences among 5, 10 and 20 μmol·L-1 Withaferin A (P<0.05). The ratios of A549 cells treated by Withaferin A for 48 h in G0/G1 stage were higher than those in 0 μmol·L-1 , while those in S and G2/M stages were obviously lower than those in G2/M stage, and there were significant differences in 5.0, 10.0 and 20.0 μmol·L-1 Withaferin A (P<0.05). Additionally, p-Akt/Akt values were in reverse association with dosage, and the differences were significant (P<0.05). CONCLUSION Withaferin A can inhibit the proliferation and apoptosis of A549 cells by suppressing activation of the PI3K/Akt pathways.