The signal transduction pathway regulated by the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor protein, pRB, is abrogated in the majority of human cancers. Using a series of cell lines derived from oral squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) that were not subjected to radiation or chemotherapy treatment, we detected specific hyperactivity of cyclin dependent kinase (cdk) 6 but not cdk4. Subcellular localization studies showed a predominant nuclear localization of cdk6, demonstrating that this kinase was biologically active. The molecular basis for this aberration are mutations in the MTS1 locus of chromosome 9p21. This locus encodes two partially overlapping genes, the cdk inhibitor p16(ink4a), and p14(ARF), an inhibitor of mdm2-mediated degradation of p53. Our analysis demonstrates that the mutations of the MTS1 locus in oral SCC specifically target expression of the p16(ink4a) gene but less frequently affect p14(ARF). These results suggest that hyperactivity of cdk6 represents a distinct mechanism for pRB inactivation in oral SCC.