An antitumour lectin (named AAL) consisting of two identical subunits of 15.8 kDa was isolated from the fruiting bodies of the edible mushroom Agrocybe aegerita using a procedure which involved precipitating the extract by addition of (NH(4))(2)SO(4), ion exchange chromatography on DEAE-Sepharose Fast Flow, gel filtration chromatography on Sephacryl S-200 HR and finally purification on a GF-250 HPLC column. Amino acid analysis of the N-terminus and an internal fragment indicated that the sequences of the two fragments were QGVNIYNI and Q(K)PDGPWLVEK(Q)R respectively. AAL showed strong inhibition of the growth of human tumour cell lines HeLa, SW480, SGC-7901, MGC80-3, BGC-823, HL-60 and mouse sarcoma S-180. AAL also inhibited the viability of S-180 tumour cells in vivo. Analysis by Hoechst 33258 staining, MitoSensor Kit and flow cytometry showed that AAL induced apoptosis in HeLa cells. TUNEL (terminal transferase deoxytidyl uridine end labelling) analysis of slides of tumour tissues excised from BALB/c mice also demonstrated the apoptosis-induction activity of the lectin. Furthermore, AAL was shown to possess DNase activity in assays using plasmid pCDNA3 and salmon sperm DNA. Based on the results obtained in these assays, we conclude that AAL exerts its antitumour effects via apoptosis-inducing and DNase activities.