The cell cycle is governed by a family of cyclin-dependent kinases (Cdks). Cdk2 forms a functional complex with cyclin E and plays a pivotal role in the regulation of G1/S transition. Cdk2 activity is negatively regulated by interactions with inhibitors. p27Kip1, one of the most potent inhibitors of Cdk2, was recently identified as a powerful negative prognostic marker in non-small cell lung cancer as well as in colorectal and breast cancer. In the present study, the expression of p27 and Ki-67 antigen in nonneoplastic and cancerous lung tissues was determined by immunohistochemistry. After establishing that the antibody-measured p27 labeling index was a good reflection of the level of p27 expression measured by Western blotting, we show that p27 labeling index is decreased in cancerous lung tissues, compared with nonneoplastic lung tissues, and exhibits a significant inverse relation to the proliferation marker Ki-67 antigen, detected with monoclonal antibody MIB-1. Consistent with these data, all cancerous lung tissues showed enhanced degradation activity of p27 compared with nonneoplastic lung tissues and, in addition, increased levels of the phosphorylated form of Cdk2, as determined with Western blot analysis. The H1 histone kinase activity associated with Cdk2 was also increased in non-small cell lung cancers. Statistical analysis showed that proliferative activity as measured by MIB-1 labeling index was highly correlated with Cdk2 activity (r = 0.767, P < 0.0015). These results suggest that p27 and Cdk2 may play an important role in the proliferation of non-small cell cancer.