Cyclin-dependent kinase-4 inhibitor genes (INK4) regulate the cell cycle and are candidate tumor-suppressor genes. To determine if alterations in the coding regions of the p18 and p19 genes, which are novel members of the INK4 family and if they correlate with the development of human cancer, 100 human cancer cell lines were analyzed. Two other INK4 gene family members, p15INK4b/MTS2 and p16INK4/MTS1 genes were also analyzed. Homozygous deletions of the p15INK4b/MTS2 gene were detected in 29 cancer cell lines. Thirty-five homozygous deletions and 7 intragenic mutations of the pl6INK4/MTS1 gene were also detected in these cell lines. Neither homozygous deletions nor intragenic mutations of the p18 and p19 genes were found except in an ovarian cancer cell line, SKOV3, harboring a single base pair deletion in exon 1 of p19. In p16INK4/MTS1 expression analysis, 5 cell lines with both authentic and alternative spliced p16INK4/MTS1 mRNA had no detectable p16INK4/MTS1 protein. These results suggest the hypotheses that either post-translational modification or enhanced degradation may be responsible for the lack of detection of the p16INK4/MTS1 protein. Using Western blot analysis, subsets of 26 human cancer cell lines were examined for p18 expression and 39 cell lines for p19 expression. All of these cell lines expressed the p18 or p19 protein, with the exception of SKOV3, which did not express p19. Therefore, the INK4 gene family may be divided into 2 groups. One group includes p15INK4b/MTS2 and p16INK4/MTS1, in which genetic and epigenetic alterations might contribute to the development of human cancers. The other group includes p18 and p19, in which somatic mutations are uncommon in many types of human cancer, and their role in human carcinogenesis and cancer progression is uncertain.