UbC is one of two stress-inducible polyubiquitin genes in mammals and is thought to supplement the constitutive UbA genes in maintaining cellular ubiquitin (Ub) levels during episodes of cellular stress. We have generated mice harboring a targeted disruption of the UbC gene. UbC(-/-) embryos die between embryonic days 12.5 and 14.5 in utero, most likely owing to a severe defect in liver cell proliferation. Mouse embryonic fibroblasts from UbC(-/-) embryos exhibit reduced growth rates, premature senescence, increased apoptosis and delayed cell-cycle progression, with slightly, but significantly, decreased steady-state Ub levels. UbC(-/-) fibroblasts are hypersensitive to proteasome inhibitors and heat shock, and unable to adequately increase Ub levels in response to these cellular stresses. Most, but not all of the UbC(-/-) phenotypes can be rescued by providing additional Ub from a poly hemagglutinin-tagged Ub minigene expressed from the Hprt locus. We propose that UbC is regulated by a process that senses Ub pool dynamics. These data establish that UbC constitutes an essential source of Ub during cell proliferation and stress that cannot be compensated by other Ub genes.