In the present study the role of T-type Ca(2+) channels in cancer cell proliferation was examined. Seventeen human esophageal cancer cell lines were screened for T-type channels using RT-PCR and voltage-clamp recordings. mRNAs for all three T-type channel alpha(1)-subunits (alpha(1G), alpha(1H), and alpha(1I)) were detected in all 17 cell lines: either alpha(1H) alone, alpha(1H) and alpha(1G), or all three T-type alpha(1)-subunits. Eleven cell lines were further subjected to voltage-clamp recordings: one, i.e. the TE8 cell line, was found to exhibit a typical T-type current while others exhibited a minimal or no T-type current. Cell proliferation assays were performed in the presence or absence of T-type channel blocker mibefradil in KYSE150, KYSE180 and TE1 cells expressing mRNA for T-type channel alpha(1)-subunits but lacking T-type current, and TE8 cells exhibiting T-type current. Only TE8 cell proliferation was reduced by mibefradil. Silencing the alpha(1G)-gene that encodes functional T-type Ca(2+) channels in TE8 cells with type-specific shRNA transduction also significantly decreased TE8 cell proliferation. The reduction of cell proliferation in TE8 cells was found to be associated with an up-regulation of p21(CIP1). Moreover, p53 silencing nearly abolished the up-regulation of p21(CIP1) resulting from mibefradil T-type channel blockade. Together, these findings suggest a functional role of T-type channels in certain esophageal carcinomas, and that inhibition of T-type channels reduces cell proliferation via a p53-dependent p21(CIP1) pathway.