Abstract A series of square planar cobalt(II) compounds bearing tetradentate β-ketoaminato ligands with variation in the number of ―CF 3 ligand substituents has been prepared and structurally and spectroscopically characterized. The fluorinated β-ketoamine ligands were prepared utilizing a multistep reaction sequence employing a silylenol protecting group. An additional tetrahedral cobalt compound bearing two bidentate β-ketoaminato ligands was also prepared and characterized. Cytotoxic activity of the cobalt-containing complexes was evaluated using six human cell lines; including two different prostate cancer cell lines (PC-3 and VCaP), acute monocytic leukemia (THP-1), astrocytoma (U-373 MG), hepatocellular carcinoma (HepG2), and neuroblastoma (SH-SY5Y) cells. The cobalt compounds are more active than their corresponding ligands. The activity is cell type specific; the cobalt compounds exhibit strong activity against human prostate cancer and monocytic leukemia cells but weak or no activity against neuroblastoma, astrocytoma, and liver carcinoma cells. Activity generally increases with a greater number of ―CF 3 substituents, and square planar complexes exhibit greater activity than the tetrahedral derivative. The mechanisms of activity against human PC-3 prostate cancer cells involve caspase-3 and two different mitogen-activated protein kinases. The addition of a thiol antioxidant reduced cytotoxicity, suggesting the possible involvement of reactive oxygen species. These cobalt complexes may represent a novel class of cytotoxic drugs selective towards certain types of tumors.