Emodin, a natural anthraquinone isolated from the traditional Chinese medicine Radix rhizoma Rhei, can induce apoptosis in many kinds of cancer cells. This study demonstrated that emodin induces apoptosis in human colon cancer HCT116 cells by provoking oxidative stress, which subsequently triggers a p53-mitochondrial apoptotic pathway. Emodin induced mitochondrial transmembrane potential loss, increase in Bax and decrease in Bcl-2 expression and mitochondrial translocation and release of cytochrome c to cytosol in HCT116 cells. In response to emodin-treatment, ROS increased rapidly, and subsequently p53 was overexpressed. Pretreatment with the antioxidant NAC diminished apoptosis and p53 overexpression induced by emodin. Transfecting p53 siRNA also attenuated apoptosis induced by emodin, Bax expression and mitochondrial translocation being reduced compared to treatment with emodin alone. Taken together, these results indicate that ROS is a trigger of emodin-induced apoptosis in HCT116 cells, and p53 expression increases under oxidative stress, leading toBax-mediated mitochondrial apoptosis.