A driving force of the cell cycle is the activation of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), the activities of which are controlled by the ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis of key regulators such as cyclins and CDK inhibitors. Two ubiquitin ligases, the SKP1-CUL1-F-box-protein (SCF) complex and the anaphase-promoting complex/cyclosome (APC/C), are responsible for the specific ubiquitylation of many of these regulators. Deregulation of the proteolytic system might result in uncontrolled proliferation, genomic instability and cancer. Cumulative clinical evidence shows alterations in the ubiquitylation of cell-cycle regulators in the aetiology of many human malignancies. A better understanding of the ubiquitylation machinery will provide new insights into the regulatory biology of cell-cycle transitions and the development of anti-cancer drugs.