Polyphyllin D, a compound derived from Paris polyphylla rhizoma, demonstrated strong anticancer activities in a previous study. Our results demonstrated that polyphyllin D exerts a growth inhibitory effect by inducing apoptosis and differentiation in the human erythroleukemia cell line K562. Polyphyllin D induced apoptosis via the mitochondrial apoptotic pathway, as evidenced by the decreased Bcl-2 and Bcr/Abl expression levels, the disruption of MMP and increased Bax, cytochrome c and cleaved-caspase-3 levels. At a low dose, polyphyllin D increased CD14 expression on the surface of K562 cells and induced cells to differentiate into monocytes or mature macrophages. These data suggest that polyphyllin D has the potential to be a potent therapeutic agent for treating human chronic myelogenous leukemia.