Statins and gamma-tocotrienol (a rare isoform of vitamin E) both inhibit 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A (HMGCoA) reductase activity and display anticancer activity. However, clinical application of statins has been limited by high dose toxicity. Previous studies showed that combined statin and gamma-tocotrienol treatment synergistically inhibits growth of highly malignant +SA mammary epithelial cells in culture. To investigate the mechanism mediating this growth inhibition, studies were conducted to determine the effect of combination low dose gamma-tocotrienol and statin treatment on +SA mammary tumor cell cycle progression. Treatment with 0.25 microM simvastatin, lovastatin, mevastatin, 10 microM pravastatin or 2.0 microM gamma-tocotrienol alone had no effect, while combined treatment of individual statins with gamma-tocotrienol significantly inhibited +SA cell proliferation during the 4-day culture period. Flow cytometric analysis demonstrated that combined treatment induced cell cycle arrest in G1. Additional studies showed that treatment with 0.25 microM simvastatin or 2 microM gamma-tocotrienol alone had no effect on the relative intracellular levels of cyclin D1, CDK2, CDK4 and CDK6, but combined treatment caused a large reduction in cyclin D1 and CDK2 levels. Combined treatments also caused a relatively large increase in p27, but had no effect on p21 and p15 levels, and resulted in a large reduction in retinoblastoma (Rb) protein phosphorylation at ser780 and ser807/811. Similar effects were observed following combined treatment of gamma-tocotrienol with low doses of lovastatin, mevastatin and pravastatin. These findings demonstrate that combination low dose statin and gamma-tocotrienol treatment induced mammary tumor cell cycle arrest at G1, resulting from an increase in p27 expression, and a corresponding decrease in cyclin D1, CDK2, and hypophosphorylation of Rb protein. These findings suggest that combined treatment of statins with gamma-tocotrienol may provide significant health benefits in the treatment of breast cancer in women, while avoiding myotoxicity associated with high dose statin monotherapy.