The mevalonate pathway is tightly linked to cell proliferation. The aim of the present study is to determine the relationship between the inhibition of this pathway by lovastatin and the cell cycle. HL-60 and MOLT-4 human cell lines were cultured in a cholesterol-free medium and treated with increasing concentrations of lovastatin, and their effects on cell proliferation and the cell cycle were analyzed. Lovastatin was much more efficient in inhibiting cholesterol biosynthesis than protein prenylation. As a result of this, lovastatin blocked cell proliferation at any concentration used, but its effects on cell cycle distribution varied. At relatively low lovastatin concentrations (less than 10 microM), cells accumulated preferentially in G(2) phase, an effect which was both prevented and reversed by low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. At higher concentrations (50 microM), the cell cycle was also arrested at G(1) phase. In cells treated with lovastatin, those arrested at G(1) progressed through S upon mevalonate provision, whereas cholesterol supply allowed cells arrested at G(2) to traverse M phase. These results demonstrate the distinct roles of mevalonate, or its non-sterol derivatives, and cholesterol in cell cycle progression, both being required for normal cell cycling.