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Resveratrol (RES) has been shown to prolong lifespan and prevent cancer formation. At present, the precise cellular mechanisms of RES actions are still not clearly understood, and this is the focus of this study.Using human hepatocellular carcinoma-derived HepG2 cells as a model, we studied RES-induced changes in cell growth, cell cycle progression and apoptosis.RES at lower concentrations induced a strong but reversible S-phase delay and mild DNA synthesis inhibition, yet without causing apoptotic or necrotic cell death. At high concentrations, RES induced apoptosis, which is mainly mediated by the mitochondrial pathway. Overall, RES was a relatively weak apoptotic agent. Mechanistically, MEK inhibition was identified as an important early signalling event for RES-induced apoptosis. In comparison, activation of CDK2 and checkpoint kinase 2, and inhibition of phosphatidylinositol 3′-kinase/Akt signalling pathway contributed to the induction by RES of a reversible, non-cytotoxic S-phase delay.It is hypothesized that the induction of a non-cytotoxic S-phase delay may represent a useful mechanistic strategy for lifespan prolongation and cancer prevention. When cell cycles are selectively slowed down in the S phase, it would cumulatively increase the total lifespan of an organism if the total numbers of cell divisions of a given organism are assumed to remain basically constant. Likewise, when cells proceed through the cell cycles at a reduced pace during DNA replication, it may allow cells more time to repair the damaged DNA, and thereby reduce the chances for mutagenesis and tumour initiation.