Intact cyclin D1 functions are essential for transformation by erbB2 in tissue culture and murine models. Because cyclin D1 may alter cell proliferation through a variety of mechanisms, we used transgenic models and human tumor samples to particularly address the role of cyclin D1-cyclin-dependent kinases in transformation by erbB2. The p16 tumor suppressor specifically blocks cyclin-dependent kinase 4 and 6 activity. Here we show that an MMTV-p16 transgene blocked tumorigenesis by erbB2, demonstrating that deregulation of the cyclin-dependent kinase partner of cyclin D1 is an essential target of erbB2. ErbB2 overexpression was a determining factor in deregulation of cyclin D1-cdk4/6 interactions because neither transgenic cyclin D1 nor loss of p16 accelerated tumorigenesis in MMTV-erbB2-transgenic mice. ErbB2 was also a deciding factor in deregulation of cyclin D1-cdk4/6 in human tumors because no loss of pRb or p16 was found in tumors overexpressing erbB2, although erbB2-negative invasive breast adenocarcinomas frequently lacked expression of p16 or pRb. We conclude that deregulation of cyclin D1-Cdk4/6 interactions is a critical target of erbB2 function in human and mouse breast tumors, and erbB2's overexpression may be sufficient to deregulate cyclin D1-cdk4/6 activity in breast cancer.