Previously, we have linked prolonged intense mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAP kinase; MAPK) signaling in hepatocytes to increased expression of p21(Cip-1/WAF1/MDA6) (p21) and p16(INK4a) (p16), that leads to a p21-dependent growth arrest. In this study, we investigated the impact of hepatitis B virus X protein (pX) expression on MAPK-modulated cell cycle progression in primary mouse hepatocytes. In hepatocytes, expression of pX enhanced protein levels of p21 and p27, but not of p16. The elevated levels of p21 and p27 correlated with reduced DNA synthesis in wild-type (+/+) hepatocytes and with a weak stimulation of DNA synthesis in p21 null (-/-) cells. Antisense p27 messenger RNA (mRNA) (p27as) increased DNA synthesis in +/+ and p21 -/- cells, and pX blunted this effect in +/+ cells. In p21 -/- cells, however, p27as permitted pX to further stimulate DNA synthesis. These data argue that a reduced ability to enhance expression of both p21 and p27 is required to fully reveal the growth-potentiating properties of pX. This finding also implies that depending on the functional status of the p21 and p27 genes, expression of pX can have 2 very different effects on hepatocyte proliferation. Prolonged intense MAPK signaling reduced DNA synthesis in +/+ cells and enhanced DNA synthesis in p21 -/- cells. The enhancement of DNA synthesis in p21 -/- cells was blocked by pX, and the effect of pX was abrogated by p27as. Furthermore in p21 -/- cells, overexpression of p16 blocked MAPK-stimulated DNA synthesis, and this effect was partially reversed by p27as. These data argue that p27 can also cooperatively interact with p16 to inhibit DNA synthesis in hepatocytes. Collectively, our findings show that reduced expression of p16, p21, and p27, which can occur during hepatocellular carcinoma, enhances the ability of MAPK signaling and pX to cause proliferation in hepatocytes. Thus loss of cyclin kinase inhibitor function may play an important role in the process of tumor progression after chronic hepatitis B virus infection.