The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21cip1/waf1 negatively regulates the progression of cell cycle and the potential usefulness of p21cip1/waf1 gene is proposed in gene therapy. However, studies have demonstrated a protective role of p21cip1/waf1 against apoptosis and little is known about effects of ectopic expression of p21cip1/waf1 on differentiation of colon cancer cells. In the present study, we found diffuse p21cip1/waf1 expression in only a few clinical samples of colorectal cancer with wild-type p53 gene. To explore the role of p21cip1/waf1 in cell growth, apoptosis and differentiation, we constitutively overexpressed p21cip1/waf1 in HT29 colon carcinoma cells. Ectopic overexpression of p21cip1/waf1 was associated with inhibition of CDK2-associated kinase activity, indicating the functionality of the introduced p21cip1/waf1 gene. Overexpression of p21cip1/waf1 caused an appreciable growth inhibition in monolayer and soft agar cultures and it significantly reduced sodium butyrate- but not 5-fluorouracil-induced apoptosis. p21cip1/waf1 overexpressing cells exhibited marked decrease of intestinal differentiation when assayed with intestinal alkaline phosphatase. Our findings suggest that introduction of p21cip1/waf1 gene into colon cancer cells may be useful for inhibiting cell growth but caution should be taken regarding the increased resistance to certain apoptosis-inducing agents and dysregulation of endogenous p21cip1/waf1-mediated differentiation process.