Development of chemoresistance in androgen-refractory prostate cancer cells is partly due to constitutive activation of Rel/NF-κB transcription factors that regulate several cell survival and anti-apoptotic genes. In this study we examined whether betulinic acid (BetA), a pentacyclic triterpene from the bark of white birch, is effective in inhibiting NF-κB expression in androgen-refractory human prostate cancer cells exhibiting high constitutive NF-κB expression. Treatment of PC-3 cells with BetA inhibited DNA binding and reduced nuclear levels of the NF-κB/p65. BetA-mediated NF-κB inhibition involved decreased IKK activity and phosphorylation of IκBα at serine 32/36 followed by its degradation. Reporter assays revealed that NF-κB inhibition by BetA is transcriptionally active. These effects were found to correlate with a shift in Bax/Bcl-2 ratio and cleavage of poly(ADP)ribose polymerase more towards apoptosis. BetA also inhibited TNFα-induced activation of NF-κB via the IκBα pathway, thereby sensitizing the cells to TNFα-induced apoptosis. Our studies demonstrate that BetA effectively inhibits constitutive NF-κB activation and supports the rationale for targeting NF-κB through combination protocols with BetA in androgen-refractory prostate cancer. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.