Previous studies have shown that rapid cell proliferation is associated with elevated glucose consumption. However, those studies did not establish whether glucose is required for prostate cancer cell proliferation or define the molecular mechanisms by which glucose regulates cell division. We addressed these issues by studying two metastatic human prostate cancer cell lines: DU145, which is androgen independent and highly proliferative; and LNCaP, which is androgen dependent and relatively slow growing. We found that proliferation of DU145 cells was significantly inhibited by reduction of glucose in the medium to 0.5 g/L, which is half the physiologic concentration, whereas LNCaP cells grew at control rates even in the presence of only 0.05 g/L glucose. Glucose deprivation of DU145 cells caused a 90% reduction in DNA synthesis; a 10-20-fold reduction in cyclins D and E and CDK4 levels; and cell cycle arrest in G0-G1. However, glucose deprivation did not cause global inhibition of protein synthesis, since mutant p53 levels increased in glucose-deprived DU145 cells. This observed increase in mutant p53 levels was not associated with a rise in p21 levels. Glucose deprivation of DU145 cells also led to apparent dephosphorylation of mutant retinoblastoma (RB) protein. We conclude that: 1) high levels of glucose consumption are required for rapid proliferation of androgen-independent prostate cancer cells, 2) glucose may not be required for slow growth of androgen-dependent prostate cancer cells, and 3) glucose promotes passage of cells through early G1 by increasing the expression of several key cell cycle regulatory proteins that normally inhibit RB function.