Raspberry extracts enriched in polyphenols, but devoid of organic acids, sugars and vitamin C, were prepared by sorption to C18 solid phase extraction matrices and tested for their ability to inhibit the proliferation of human cervical cancer (HeLa) cells in vitro. The raspberry extract reduced proliferation in a dose-dependent manner whether this was judged by cell number or measurements of cell viability. However, measurements based on cell viability were more accurate and gave an EC(50) value of 17.5 microg/ml gallic acid equivalents (GAE) at day 4 of culture. Raspberry extracts were fractionated by sorption to Sephadex LH-20 into an unbound fraction, which was obviously enriched in anthocyanins, and a bound fraction. The unbound anthocyanin-enriched fraction was much less effective in reducing proliferation then the original extract and gave an EC(50) value estimated at 67 microg/ml. The LH-20 bound fraction was more effective than the original raspberry extract (EC(50)=13 microg/ml) suggesting that the main anti-proliferative agents were retained in the bound fraction. Analysis of the original extract, the unbound and the LH20 bound fractions by LC-MS confirmed that the unbound fraction was enriched in anthocyanins and the bound fraction primarily contained ellagitannins. The ellagitannin-rich bound fraction had the highest antioxidant capacity as measured by the ferric reducing antioxidant potential (FRAP) assay. The mechanism by which the ellagitannins inhibit proliferation of cancer cells is discussed.