L-Canavanine (CAV) is a higher plant nonprotein amino acid and a potent L-arginine antimetabolite. CAV can inhibit the proliferation of tumor cells in vitro and in vivo, but little is known regarding the molecular mechanisms mediating these effects. We demonstrated that the treatment of human lung adenocarcinoma A549 cells with CAV caused growth inhibition; G1 phase arrest is accompanied by accumulation of an incompletely phosphorylated form of the retinoblastoma protein, whose phosphorylation is necessary for cell cycle progression from G1 to S phase. In addition, CAV induces the expression of p53 and subsequent expression of a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor, p21/WAF1. The p53-dependent induction of p21/WAF1 and the following dephosphorylation of the retinoblastoma protein by CAV could account for the observed CAV-mediated G1 phase arrest.