MicroRNAs might act as oncogenes or tumor suppressors in cancer. Recent studies have shown that miR-421 is up-regulated in human gastric cancer. Here, we found that miR‑421 was over-expressed in gastric cancer tissues and cell lines. Bioinformatics analysis predicted that the caspase-3 gene was a target of miR-421. Caspase-3 was negatively regulated by miR-421 at the post-transcriptional level. Bax and Bcl-2 were also regulated by miR-421. Moreover, tumor necrosis factor receptor-I and -II, death receptors in the apoptosis pathway, were up-regulated by miR-421. The over-expression of miR-421 promoted gastric cancer cell growth and inhibited apoptosis of the BGC-823 gastric cancer cell line. These observations indicate that miR-421 acts as a tumor promoter by targetingthe caspase-3 gene and preventing apoptosis of gastric cancer cells through inhibition of caspase-3 expression. These findings contribute to our understanding of the functions of miR-421 in gastric cancer.