c-Abl is a tyrosine kinase localized primarily in the nucleus. Previous assays for abl function rely on cellular transformation by abl mutants, which are cytoplasmic. Using a conditional overexpression strategy, we have developed a functional assay for c-abl. Overexpression of c-abl inhibits growth by causing cell cycle arrest. Growth suppression requires tyrosine kinase activity, nuclear localization, and an intact SH2 domain. Overexpression of dominant negative c-abl disrupts cell cycle control and enhances transformation by tyrosine kinases, G proteins, and transcription factor oncogenes. These findings suggest that c-abl acts as a negative regulator of cell growth. This growth suppressive activity is functionally similar to that of tumor suppressor genes such as p53 and Rb.