The ubiquitin proteasome pathway is a highly conserved intracellular pathway for the degradation of proteins. Many of the short-lived regulatory proteins which govern cell division, growth, activation, signaling and transcription are substrates that are temporally degraded by the proteasome. In recent years, new and selective inhibitors of the proteasome have been employed in cell culture systems to examine the anti-tumor potential of these agents. This review covers the chemistry of selected proteasome inhibitors, possible mechanisms of action in cell culture and the in vivo examination of proteasome inhibitors in murine and human xenograft tumor models in mice. One inhibitor, PS-341, has recently entered Phase I clinical trials in cancer patients with advanced disease to further test the potential of this approach.