Emulsified isoflurane (EIso), as a result of its rapid anesthetic induction, recovery and convenience, is widely used as a novel intravenous general anesthetic. Treatment with EIso can reduce injuries caused by ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) to organs, including the heart, lung and liver, without knowing understanding the molecular mechanism. The present study hypothesized that treatment with EIso can affect the physiological processes of human lung bronchial epithelial cells (16HBE) prior to I/R. To test this hypothesis, the present study first constructed stable p53 knockdown and synthesis of cytochrome c oxidase (SCO)2 knockdown 16HBE cells. The above cells were subsequently treated with EIso at a concentration of 0.1 and 0.2% for 24 h. The relevant concentration of fat emulsion was used as a negative control. The expression levels of p53, p21, SCO1, SCO2 and Tp53‑induced glycolysis and apoptosis regulator (TIGAR) were detected by reverse transcription‑quantitative polymerase chain reaction and western blotting. Subsequently, the cell proliferation, respiration and glycolysis were investigated. The results revealed that EIso treatment significantly decreased the transcription of TIGAR, SCO1 and SCO2, and increased the transcription of p21, which are all p53 target genes, in a p53-independent manner. The cell cycle was inhibited by arresting cells at the G0/G1 phase. Respiration was reduced, which caused a decrease in oxygen consumption and the accumulation of lactate and reactive oxygen species. Taken together, EIso treatment inhibited the proliferation and respiration, and promoted glycolysis in 16HBE cells. This regulatory pathway may represent a protective mechanism of EIso treatment by inhibiting cell growth and decreasing the oxygen consumption from I/R.