We have evaluated the in vivo correlation between the expression of cell cycle markers and skin tumor development in SKH-1 hairless mice in a complete photocarcinogenesis protocol. Irradiated mice developed an average of 16 tumors per animal by week 23 with the average number of carcinomas per mouse being 2.1. The expression of p53 and cyclins A and D1 was confined initially to sporadic single cells and gradually developed into foci of patchy intense staining in the basal and granular layers of UVB-exposed epidermis. p53 was expressed in all the papilloma sections examined, whereas cyclins D1 and A were expressed in 68 and 71% of these lesions, respectively. In UVB-induced squamous cell carcinomas (SCC), p53 was expressed in >90% of the tumors, whereas cyclin D1 was detected in 55% of the lesions, and cyclin A staining was limited to 27%. These immunohistochemical observations were confirmed by Western blotting and protein kinase assays. We observed an early wave of cyclin A overexpression and cyclin A protein kinase activity preceding the appearance of detectable tumors. Cyclin D1 and p53 overexpression were coupled with the development of tumors, and these changes are likely to be relevant to the pathogenesis of these lesions.