Cyclin-dependent kinase 6(cdk6) is present in randomly proliferating cultures of 3T3 cells but has little detectable enzymatic activity. Significant activity is detected only during a short period in early G1 phase. To examine the possible functions of cdk6 in 3T3 cells, lines stably over-expressing cdk6 were constructed and compared to normal 3T3 cells or cell lines with reduced cdk6 levels due to expression of a dominant-negative form of the protein. Over-expression of cdk6 in cells, which led to high levels of activity even in proliferating cultures, had dramatic effects. Cell lines stably over-expressing wild-type cdk6 had a markedly reduced growth rate compared to parental 3T3 cells or lines expressing a dominant-negative form of cdk6. They also over-produced the p53 and p130 proteins and had increased sensitivity to UV-irradiation. Irradiation resulted in accumulation of the Bax protein and rapid cell death. Levels of p53 and p130 proteins were down-regulated and the growth rate of the cells was increased by introduction of the dominant-negative form of cdk6 into cells over-expressing cdk6, indicating that cdk6 is involved in the overproduction of p53 and p130. The results suggest that cdk6, through regulation of growth-suppressing molecules, may play a role in halting cellular growth when proliferation is inappropriate.