The cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor 2A (CDKN2A), or p16INK4a, gene on 9p21 is important in the genesis of both familial and sporadic melanoma. Homozygous deletions and intragenic mutations of this gene have been identified in both melanoma cell lines and uncultured tumors, although the frequency of these alterations is higher in the cell lines. A proportion of melanoma cell lines and tumors without deletion/mutation of CDKN2A have also been determined to harbor transcriptionally inactive CDKN2A alleles or carry alterations in other components of the pathway through which p16INK4a acts on pRb to mediate cell cycle arrest. We sought to determine the frequency of these alternative events (in relationship to those that specifically inactivate CDKN2A) in a panel of 45 melanoma cell lines. Surprisingly, at the DNA level alone, 96% (43/45) of melanoma cell lines examined were found to be deleted/mutated/methylated for CDKN2A (34/45), homozygously deleted for CDKN2A's neighbor and homolog CDKN2B (6/45), and/or mutated/amplified for CDK4 (5/45). In two of these 43 cases, homozygous deletions of CDKN2A were detected along with a CDK4 mutation or amplification of the cyclin D1 (CCND1) gene. The latter discoveries were made in two of three cell lines which harbored extremely large (3-6 Mb) homozygous deletions on 9p21; all other homozygous deletions in similarly affected cell lines (N = 23) were confined to a region immediately surrounding the CDKN2A/CDKN2B loci. These results suggest that (1) only melanoma cells with alterations in this pathway can be propagated in culture, and (2) the homozygous deletions on 9p21 in the cell lines, which are also mutated/amplified for CDK4 or CCND1, could serve to target tumor suppressor genes other than CDKN2A.