Matrine has a wide range of pharmacological effects including antitumor activity in vitro and in vivo. Autophagy is closely associated with tumors and plays an important role in human tumor suppression, so inducing autophagy is a potential therapeutic strategy in adjuvant chemotherapy. The aim of this study was to investigate whether or not autophagy is involved in antitumor effects of matrine on human gastric cancer SGC-7901 cells, and to further elucidate the underlying molecular mechanisms. Sulphorhodamine B (SRB) assay was used to examine matrine's cytotoxicity against SGC-7901 gastric cancer cells. The effects of matrine on the cell cycle and apoptosis were measured by ﬂow cytometry, and cellular morphology was observed under an inverted phase contrast microscope and transmission electron microscope. Monodansylcadaverine (MDC) staining was used to detect autophagy. The expression levels of Bax and Beclin 1 in SGC-7901 cells were monitored by real-time quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The results showed that matrine signiﬁcantly inhibited the proliferation of SGC-7901 gastric cancer cells and induced G1-phase cell cycle arrest. Furthermore, both autophagy and apoptosis were activated during the matrine-induced death of SGC-7901 cells. Beclin 1 is involved in matrine-induced autophagy and the pro-apoptotic mechanisms of matrine may be associated with its up-regulation of Bax expression. These ﬁndings indicate that matrine is a potent antitumor agent for treating gastric cancer. The ability of matrine to induce autophagy underlines its potential utility as a new gastric cancer treatment modality.