gamma-Linolenic acid (gamma-LA), a n-6 essential fatty acid, has been previously shown to affect cell cycle and growth of cancer cells. This study examined the effects of gamma-LA on the cell cycle and cycle regulators in human colon cancer HT115 and breast cancer MCF7 cells. Brief treatment of cancer cells (<2 h) with gamma-LA resulted in a decrease in the phosphorylation of both cell cycle inhibitors, p27kip1 and p57kip2 as shown by immunoprecipitation and Western blotting. Protein levels of both inhibitors were increased following a prolonged culture of cells with the fatty acid. A co-precipitation study showed that in cells treated with gamma-LA there was an increase in the binding of these inhibitors with CDK4, CDC2, and cyclin E. Flow cytometry study indicated an inhibition of cell cycle progression by gamma-LA (G0/G1 -45.4%, S - 34.6%, G2+M - 20.0% in control, and 70.5%, 21.0%, and 8.5%, respectively, in gamma-LA treated cells). It is concluded that gamma-linolenic acid inhibits cell cycle progression in the cancer cell lines investigated, via its regulation of the phosphorylation and subsequent degradation of p27kip1 and p57kip2 and their interactions with other cycle regulators.