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New sarsasapogenin derivatives were synthesized and evaluated for their cytotoxicity.The structure-activity relationship was investigated.Compound 4c exhibited the greatest cytotoxic activity against MCF-7 cell line.Compound 4c inhibited the colony formation and induced the apoptosis of MCF-7 cells.The mitochondrial pathway was involved in the compound 4c-mediated apoptosis.Sarsasapogenin, a kind of mainly effective component of Anemarrhena asphodeloides Bunge, possesses good antitumor properties. Two series of new sarsasapogenin derivatives were synthesized and evaluated for their cytotoxicities against three human cancer cell lines (HepG2, A549, MCF-7) using the MTT assay. The structure-activity relationship revealed that the N, N-dimethylamino, pyrrolidinyl, and imidazolyl substituted at the C26 position could increase the antitumor efficacy of the 3-oxo sarsasapogenin series of compounds. Compound 4c with pyrrolidinyl substituted at the C26 position exhibited the greatest cytotoxic activity against MCF-7 cell line (IC50 = 10.66 μM), which was 4.3-fold more potent than sarsasapogenin. Action mechanism investigations showed that 4c could inhibit the colony formation and induce the apoptosis of MCF-7 cells. Further researches showed that a decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential and increases in the expression level of cleaved-PARP and the ratio of Bax/Bcl-2 were observed in MCF-7 cells after treatment with 4c, suggesting that the mitochondrial pathway was involved in the 4c-mediated apoptosis. These results show that compound 4c may serve as a lead for further optimization.