Overexpression or activation of AKT is very well known to control cell growth, survival, and gene expression in solid tumors. Oridonin, an inflammatory medical and diterpenoid compound isolated from Rabdosia rubescens , has exhibited various pharmacologic and physiologic properties, including antitumor, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory effects. In this study, we demonstrated that oridonin is an inhibitor of AKT and suppresses proliferation of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) in vitro and in vivo . The role of AKT in ESCC was studied using immuno-histochemical analysis of a tumor microarray, the effect of AKT knockdown on cell growth, and treatment of cells with MK-2206, an AKT inhibitor. Oridonin blocked AKT kinase activity and interacted with the ATP-binding pocket of AKT. It inhibited growth of KYSE70, KYSE410, and KYSE450 esophageal cancer cells in a time- and concentration-dependent manner. Oridonin induced arrest of cells in the G 2 –M cell-cycle phase, stimulated apoptosis, and increased expression of apoptotic biomarkers, including cleaved PARP, caspase-3, caspase-7, and Bim s in ESCC cell lines. Mechanistically, we found that oridonin diminished the phosphorylation and activation of AKT signaling. Furthermore, a combination of oridonin and 5-fluorouracil or cisplatin (clinical chemotherapeutic agents) enhanced the inhibition of ESCC cell growth. The effects of oridonin were verified in patient-derived xenograft tumors expressing high levels of AKT. In summary, our results indicate that oridonin acts as an AKT inhibitor to suppress the growth of ESCC by attenuating AKT signaling. Mol Cancer Ther; 17(7); 1540–53. ©2018 AACR .