Mammalian cell cycle progression is regulated by the combined action of cyclins/cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) and CDK inhibitors. Abnormal expression as well as interaction of these proteins may result in malignant transformation of cells. To further address the role of these cell cycle proteins in hepatocellular carcinomas, we analyzed the expression of cyclin E and CDK2. A panel of livers with human hepatocellular carcinoma, liver cirrhosis, and chronic hepatitis were used as a human experimental system. The inbred LEC (Long-Evans with a cinnamon-like coat color) rats were used as an animal experimental HCC model. Immunohistochemical staining of serial paraffin sections was performed using antibodies to cyclin E and CDK2. The results showed that cyclin E and CDK2 were concurrently overexpressed in hepatocellular carcinomas both in human and rat livers. Western blot analysis and CDK2 kinase assay demonstrated expression levels of cyclin E and CDK2 and CDK2 kinase activity, respectively, and both were shown to increase along with the development of hepatocellular carcinomas. Analysis of the correlation between expression of cyclin E and CDK2 and clinicopathological parameters revealed a significant correlation between expression of cyclin E and tumor grade (P=0.013), and PCNA index (P=0.006) as well as CDK2 expression (P=0.015). Overexpression of CDK2 tended to be associated with poorly differentiated HCCs. The results suggest that overexpression of cyclin E and CDK2 plays an important role in the development of hepatocellular carcinoma.