Survivin is a recently described inhibitor of apoptosis. Because suppression of apoptosis is important for carcinogenesis and tumor growth, we investigated the expression and function of survivin in human hepatocellular carcinomas (HCCs). We have shown that 4 HCC cell lines and 7 out of 8 human HCC tissues expressed survivin messenger RNA (mRNA), whereas expression of survivin mRNA was not detected in normal liver and nontumor areas of these tissues using the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. Survivin was detected primarily in the nucleus by immunofluorescence staining of HCC cells. In addition, 14 of 20 (70%) HCC tissues showed positive nuclear staining for survivin, whereas nontumor tissues showed little detectable staining by immunohistochemistry. Survivin expression strongly correlated with the proliferation index but not significantly with the apoptosis index in HCC tissues. Therefore, we performed cell cycle analysis after survivin transfection and showed that overexpression of survivin resulted in a decrease in the G(0)/G(1) phase and an increase in the S phase in all 4 HCC cell lines. Furthermore, we have found that survivin interacted with cyclin-dependent kinase 4 (Cdk4) and overexpression of survivin released p21(WAF1/Cip1) (p21) from Cdk4. From these results, we conclude that survivin promotes cell proliferation by interacting with Cdk4 and releasing p21 from Cdk4. This may play an important role in carcinogenesis and progression of human HCCs.