While the role of nuclear transcription factor activator protein-1 (AP-1) in cell proliferation, and of nuclear factor-kappaB (NF-kappaB) in the suppression of apoptosis are known, their role in survival of prostate cancer cells is not well understood. We investigated the role of NF-kappaB and AP-1 in the survival of human androgen-independent (DU145) and -dependent (LNCaP) prostate cancer cell lines. Our results show that the faster rate of proliferation of DU145 cells when compared to LNCaP cells correlated with the constitutive expression of activated NF-kappaB and AP-1 in DU-145 cells. The lack of constitutive expression of NF-kappaB and AP-1 in LNCaP cells also correlated with their sensitivity to the antiproliferative effects of tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF induced NF-kappaB activation but not AP-1 activation in LNCaP cells. In DU145 cells both c-Fos and c-Jun were expressed and treatment with TNF activated c-Jun NH2-terminal kinase (JNK), needed for AP-1 activation. In LNCaP cells, however, only low levels of c-Jun was expressed and treatment with TNF minimally activated JNK. Treatment of cells with curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, suppressed both constitutive (DU145) and inducible (LNCaP) NF-kappaB activation, and potentiated TNF-induced apoptosis. Curcumin alone induced apoptosis in both cell types, which correlated with the downregulation of the expression of Bcl-2 and Bcl-xL and the activation of procaspase-3 and procaspase-8. Overall, our results suggest that NF-kappaB and AP-1 may play a role in the survival of prostate cancer cells, and curcumin abrogates their survival mechanisms.