Recent discoveries of plant retinoblastoma (Rb) protein homologues and D-type cyclins suggest that control of the onset of cell division in plants may have stronger parallels with mammalian G1/S controls than with yeasts. In mammals, the Rb protein interacts specifically with D-type cyclins and regulates cell proliferation by binding and inhibiting E2F transcription factors. However, the developmental role of Rb in plants and its potential interaction with cell cycle regulators is unknown. We show that the maize Rb homologue ZmRb-1 is temporally and spatially regulated during maize leaf development. ZmRb-1 is highly expressed in differentiating cells, but almost undetectable in proliferating cells. In vitro, both ZmRb-1 and human Rb bind all classes of plant D-type cyclins with the involvement of a conserved N-terminal Leu-x-Cys-x-Glu (LxCxE) Rb-interaction motif. This binding is strongly reduced by mutation of the conserved Cys-470 of ZmRb-1. ZmRb-1 binds human and Drosophila E2F, and inhibits transcriptional activation of human E2F. We also show that ZmRb-1 is a good in vitro substrate for all human G1/S protein kinases. The functional conservation of proteins that control the G1/S transition in mammals and plants points to the existence of plant E2F homologues. We conclude that evolution of Rb and cyclin D proteins occurred after separation of the fungi from the higher eukaryotic lineage, but preceded the divergence of plant and animal kingdoms.