Pyropheophorbide-α methyl ester (MPPa) was a promising photosensitizer with stable chemical structure, strong absorption, higher tissue selectivity and longer activation wavelengths. The present study investigated the effect of MPPa-mediated photodynamic treatment on lung cancer A549 cells as well as the underlying mechanisms. Cell Counting Kit-8 was employed for cell viability assessment. Reactive oxygen species levels were determined by fluorescence microscopy and flow cytometry. Cell morphology was evaluated by Hoechst staining and transmission electron microscopy. Mitochondrial membrane potential, cellular apoptosis and cell cycle distribution were evaluated flow-cytometrically. The protein levels of apoptotic effectors were examined by Western blot. We found that the photocytotoxicity of MPPa showed both drug- and light- dose dependent characteristics in A549 cells. Additionally, MPPa-PDT caused cell apoptosis by reducing mitochondrial membrane potential, increasing reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, inducing caspase-9/caspase-3 signaling activation as well as cell cycle arrest at G0 /G1 phase. These results suggested that MPPa-PDT mainly kills cells by apoptotic mechanisms, with overt curative effects, indicating that MPPa should be considered a potent photosensitizer for lung carcinoma treatment.