Recent studies have shown that the cyclin-dependent kinase (cdk) inhibitors play important roles in cell cycle progression in normal cells. Alterations in the cdk inhibitors also appear to be important in cancer development in a number of human tumors. p27Kip1 is a member of the CIP/KIP family of cdk inhibitors that negatively regulates cyclin-cdk complexes. Reduced levels of p27Kip1 protein have been identified in a number of human cancers, and in some cases reduced p27Kip1 is associated with an increase in proliferative fraction. In the present study, we examined p27Kip1 protein by immunohistochemistry in 10 normal and 36 dysplastic epithelia and in 8 squamous cell carcinomas from one anatomical site within the oral cavity, the floor of the mouth. Proliferative activity was assessed in serial sections by determining the expression of the cell cycle proteins Ki-67 and cyclin A. p27kip1 protein was significantly reduced in oral dysplasias and carcinomas compared with that in normal epithelial controls. In addition, there was a significant reduction in p27Kip1 protein between low- and high-grade dysplasias, suggesting that changes in p27Kip1 expression may be an early event in oral carcinogenesis. There was increasing expression of Ki-67 and cyclin A proteins with increasingly severe grades of dysplasia compared with normal controls. Although there was a strong correlation between Ki-67 and cyclin A scores (r2= 0.61) for all categories of disease, there was a weak negative correlation between Ki-67 and p27Kip1 levels (r2 = 0.29) and between cyclin A and p27Kip1 levels (r2 = 0.25). In conclusion, this study has found that a reduction in the proportion of cells expressing p27Kip1 protein is frequently associated with oral dysplasia and carcinoma from the floor of the mouth. Furthermore, reductions in p27Kip1 levels are associated with increased cell proliferation, although other changes likely contribute to altered cell kinetics during carcinogenesis at this site.