Passage through the cell cycle requires the successive activation of different cyclin-dependent protein kinases (CDKs). These enzymes are controlled by transient associations with cyclin regulatory subunits, binding of inhibitory polypeptides and reversible phosphorylation reactions. To promote progression towards DNA replication, CDK/cyclin complexes phosphorylate proteins required for the activation of genes involved in DNA synthesis, as well as components of the DNA replication machinery. Subsequently, a different set of CDK/cyclin complexes triggers the phosphorylation of numerous proteins to promote the profound structural reorganizations that accompany the entry of cells into mitosis. At present, much research is focused on elucidating the links between CDK/cyclin complexes and signal transduction pathways controlling cell growth, differentiation and death. In future, a better understanding of the cell cycle machinery and its deregulation during oncogenesis may provide novel opportunities for the diagnostic and therapeutic management of cancer and other proliferation-related diseases.