The p16 gene, encodes a key checkpoint protein p16 in the cell cycle, has been reported inactivation in a wide variety of human cancers. We have previously demonstrated high frequency of p16 alterations in primary nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC), xenografts and cell lines. The finding implied that inactivation of the p16 gene may play an important role in the NPC development. To investigate the tumour suppressor function of p16 in NPC, we transfected p16-deficient NPC cell line, NPC/HK-1, with a wild-type p16 expression construct, and evaluated growth and tumorigenic properties of the clones stably expressing exogenous p16. Expression of the exogenous wild-type p16 significantly inhibited cell growth by more than 70% when compared to that of the parental and empty vector-transfected cells. This growth inhibition was attributable to a significant proportion of p16-expressing cells arrested at G1 phase in the cell cycle as revealed by flow cytometric analysis. By anchorage-independent colony forming assay, we found that the ability to form colonies in soft agar was highly reduced in cells expressing p16. NPC/HK1 cells expressing functional p16 also showed suppressed tumorigenicity in athymic nude mice. Taken together, our results provide strong evidence for a tumour suppressor role of p16 in NPC.