The continued turn over of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) while maintaining an undifferentiated state is dependent on the regulation of the cell cycle. Here we asked the question if a single cell cycle gene could regulate the self-renewal or pluripotency properties of hESC. We identified that the protein expression of the p27(Kip)¹ cell cycle inhibitor is low in hESC cells and increased with differentiation. By adopting a gain and loss of function strategy we forced or reduced its expression in undifferentiating conditions to define its functional role in self-renewal and pluripotency. Using undifferentiation conditions, overexpression of p27(Kip)¹ in hESC lead to a G₁phase arrest with an enlarged and flattened hESC morphology and consequent loss of self-renewal ability. Loss of p27(Kip)¹ caused an elongated/scatter cell-like phenotype involving up-regulation of Brachyury and Twist gene expression. We demonstrate the novel finding that p27(Kip)¹ protein occupies the Twist1 gene promoter and manipulation of p27(Kip)¹ by gain and loss of function is associated with Twist gene expression changes. These results define p27(Kip)¹ expression levels as critical for self-renewal and pluripotency in hESC and suggest a role for p27(Kip)¹ in controlling an epithelial to mesenchymal transition (EMT) in hESC.