p16Ink4 (inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinase 4) is a cell cycle regulator that specifically binds to and inhibits Cdk4. Recently, the human mts1 (multiple tumor suppressor 1) gene, deleted or mutated in various primary tumors and in a large number of transformed cell lines, was found to be identical to ink4. In this study we have surveyed by immunoblotting the protein levels of p16Ink4 in normal and transformed human cells. We determined that p16Ink4 was differentially expressed in diploid cells derived from different tissues, in contrast to another cell cycle inhibitor, p21Waf1, which is ubiquitously expressed. In some tumor cell lines p16Ink4 protein was not detected, presumably because of a homozygous deletion of its gene. By contrast, it was found to be overexpressed in other cell lines when compared to levels in their normal counterparts. Interestingly, high levels of p16Ink4 protein correlated with functional inactivation of the retinoblastoma gene product. We also found that p16Ink4 protein expression varies during the cell cycle peaking during S phase. These results show a functional relationship between p16Ink4 and the retinoblastoma gene product and indicate that p16Ink4 is required for Cdk4 inhibition only at the G1-S transition at the time when Cdk4 kinase activity is no longer necessary.