Sulindac displays promising antineoplastic activity, but toxicities from cyclooxygenase inhibition limit its use for chemoprevention. Previous reports suggest that its anticancer properties may be attributed to a cyclooxygenase-independent mechanism, although alternative targets have not been well defined. Here, we show that sulindac sulfide (SS) induces apoptosis and inhibits the growth of human breast tumor cells with IC50 values of 60 to 85 micromol/L. Within the same concentration range, SS inhibited cyclic GMP (cGMP) hydrolysis in tumor cell lysates but did not affect cyclic AMP hydrolysis. SS did not induce apoptosis of normal human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) nor did it inhibit phosphodiesterase (PDE) activity in HMEC lysates. SS increased intracellular cGMP levels and activated protein kinase G in breast tumor cells but not HMEC. The guanylyl cyclase (GC) activator, NOR-3, and cGMP PDE inhibitors, trequinsin and MY5445, displayed similar growth-inhibitory activity as SS, but the adenylyl cyclase activator, forskolin, and other PDE inhibitors had no effect. Moreover, GC activation increased the sensitivity of tumor cells to SS, whereas GC inhibition reduced sensitivity. By comparing PDE isozyme profiles in breast tumor cells with HMEC and determining the sensitivity of recombinant PDE isozymes to SS, PDE5 was found to be overexpressed in breast tumor cells and selectively inhibited by SS. The mechanism of SS binding to the catalytic domain of PDE5 was revealed by molecular modeling. These data suggest that PDE5 inhibition is responsible for the breast tumor cell growth-inhibitory and apoptosis-inducing activity of SS and may contribute to the chemopreventive properties of sulindac.