Defects of the 'Rb/cyclin D1/p16 pathway' have been shown to play a critical role in the development of virtually all human malignancies assessed. To determine the contribution of G1 phase cell cycle defects to ovarian tumorigenesis, we have examined a panel of normal and tumor ovarian tissues and ovarian cancer cell lines for the expression of Rb, p16 and cyclin D1 proteins. Unlike most types of human cancer whose development involves the loss of either Rb or p16 expression, we observed the coexpression of Rb, p16 and cyclin D1 in 82% of ovarian cancer tissues and cell lines. Furthermore, the growth and cell cycle distribution profiles of three ovarian cancer cell lines (ES-2, PA-1 and NIH OVCAR-3) that coexpressed Rb and p16, were found to be unaffected by adenoviral-mediated overexpression of functional p16 protein, indicating the existence of a defect(s) downstream from p16 in these cells. By contrast overexpression of ectopic p16 in the one ovarian cancer cell line (SK-OV-3) that expressed Rb but lacked p16 protein, resulted in a G1 growth arrest. These data suggest that defects of the 'Rb/cyclin D1/p16 pathway', other than the loss of Rb or p16, may play a major role in the development of ovarian cancer.