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Microbial secondary metabolites have emerged as alternative novel drugs for the treatment of human cancers. Violacein, a purple pigment produced by Chromobacterium violaceum, was investigated in the present study for its anti‑tumor properties in tumor cell lines. Clinically applicable concentrations of violacein were demonstrated to inhibit the proliferative capacity of tumor cell lines according to a crystal violet proliferation assay. The underlying mechanism was the promotion of apoptotic cell death, as indicated by poly(ADP ribose) polymerase cleavage and p44/42 mitogen‑activated protein kinase signaling determined by western blot analysis. Collectively, this provided mechanistic evidence that violacein elicits extracellular-signal regulated kinase‑induced apoptosis via the intrinsic pathway. The anti‑malignant properties of violacein in the present study were further demonstrated by its inhibitory effects on brain tumor cell migration, specifically glioblastomas, one of the most invasive and therapeutically resistant neoplasms in the clinic. Additionally, solid tumors examined in the present study displayed differential cellular responses and sensitivities to violacein as observed by morphologically induced cellular changes that contributed to its anti‑migratory properties. In conclusion, violacein is a novel natural product with the potential to kill several types of human tumor cell lines, as well as prevent disease recurrence by antagonizing cellular processes that contribute to metastatic invasion.