BackgroundFerulic acid (4-hydroxy-3-methoxycinnamic acid, FA) is a hydroxycinnamic acid derived from a rich polyphenolic compound. This study aimed to investigate the effect of ferulic acid (4-hydroxy-3-methoxycinnamic acid; FA) on cell proliferation, invasion, apoptosis, and autophagy in Hela and Caski cervical carcinoma cell lines.MethodsThe cell proliferation of FA in Hela and Caski cells were detected by MTT assay. The cell invasion of FA in Hela and Caski cells were detected by Transwell assay. Subsequently, MMP-9 mRNA expression for cell invasion was detected by RT-PCR. Additionally, cell cycle and apoptosis were assayed using flow cytometry. Expression levels of 7 proteins for both cell cycle and autophagy were measured by Western blot analysis.ResultsAfter treated with FA (2.0 mM) for 48 h, the inhibition rates of FA in Hela and Caski cells were 88.3 and 85.4%, respectively. In addition, FA inhibited cell invasion through reducing MMP-9 mRNA expression. FA induced arrest in G0/G1 phase of the cell cycle in Hela and Caski cells with dose dependent (P < 0.05). Meanwhile, FA induced the cell cycle-related proteins expression such as p53 and p21, and reduced Cyclin D1 and Cyclin E levels. Moreover, FA decreased the autophagy-related proteins such as LC3-II, Beclin1 and Atg12-Atg5 in a dose-dependent manner.ConclusionFA can significantly inhibit cell proliferation and invasion in Hela and Caski cells. It might be acted as an anti-cancer drug through inhibiting the autophagy and inducing cell cycle arrest in human cervical carcinoma cells.