HIV-1 protease inhibitor (PI), nelfinavir (NFV) induced growth arrest and apoptosis of NCI-H460 and -H520, A549, EBC-1 and ABC-1 non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) cells in association with upregulation of p21waf1, p27kip1 and p53, and downregulation of Bcl-2 and matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-2 proteins. We found that NFV blocked Akt signalling in these cells as measured by Akt kinase assay with glycogen synthase kinase-3alpha/beta (GSK-3alpha/beta) as a substrate. To explore the role of Akt signalling in NFV-mediated growth inhibition of NSCLC cells, we blocked this signal pathway by transfection of Akt small interfering RNA (siRNA) in these cells; transient transfection of Akt siRNA in NCI-H460 cells decreased the level of Bcl-2 protein and slowed their proliferation compared to the nonspecific siRNA-transfected cells. Conversely, forced-expression of Akt partially reversed NFV-mediated growth inhibition of these cells, suggesting that Akt may be a molecular target of NFV in NSCLC cells. Also, we found that inhibition of Akt signalling by NFV enhanced the ability of docetaxel to inhibit the growth of NCI-H460 and -H520 cells, as measured by MTT assay. Importantly, NFV slowed the proliferation and induced apoptosis of NCI-H460 cells present as tumour xenografts in nude mice without adverse systemic effects. Taken together, this family of compounds might be useful for the treatment of individuals with NSCLC.