In this study we investigated the growth inhibitory effects of UCN-01 in several normal and tumor-derived human breast epithelial cells. We found that while normal mammary epithelial cells w were very sensitive to UCN-01 with an IC(50) of 10nM tumor cells displayed little to no inhibition of growth with any measurable IC(50) at low UCN-01 concentrations (i.e. 0-80 nM). The UCN-01 treated normal cells arrested in G1 phase and displayed decreased expression of most key cell cycle regulators examined, resulting in inhibition of CDK2 activity due to increased binding of p27 to CDK2. Tumor cells on the other hand displayed no change in any cell cycle distribution or expression of cell cycle regulators. Examination of E6- and E7-derived strains of normal cells revealed that pRb and not p53 function is essential for UCN-01-mediated G1 arrest. Lastly, treatment of normal and tumor cells with high doses of UCN-01 (i.e. 300 nM) revealed a necessary role for a functional G1 checkpoint in mediating growth arrest. Normal cells, which have a functional G1 checkpoint, always arrest in G1 even at very high concentrations of UCN-01. Tumor cells on the other hand have a defective G1 checkpoint and only arrest in S phase with high concentrations of UCN-01. The effect of UCN-01 on the cell cycle is thus quite different from staurosporine, a structural analogue of UCN-01, which arrests normal cells in both G1 and G2, while tumor cells arrest only in the G2 phase of the cell cycle. Our results show the different sensitivity to UCN-01 of normal compared to tumor cells is dependent on a functional pRb and a regulated G1 checkpoint.