Adhesion of tumor cells to host cell layers and subsequent transcellular migration are pivotal steps in cancer invasion and metastasis. The small GTPase Rho controls cell adhesion and motility through reorganization of the actin cytoskeleton and regulation of actomyosin contractility. Cultured rat MM1 hepatoma cells migrate through a mesothelial cell monolayer in vitro in a serum-dependent, Rho-mediated manners. Among several proteins isolated as putative target molecules of Rho, the ROCK (ROK) family of Rho-associated serine-threonine protein kinases are thought to participate in the induction of focal adhesions and stress fibers in cultured cells, and to mediate calcium sensitization of smooth muscle contraction by enhancing phosphorylation of the regulatory light chain of myosin. Transfection of MM1 cells with cDNA encoding a dominant active mutant of ROCK conferred invasive activity independently of serum and Rho. In contrast, expression of a dominant negative, kinase-defective ROCK mutant substantially attenuated the invasive phenotype. A specific ROCK inhibitor (Y-27632) blocked both Rho-mediated activation of actomyosin and invasive activity of these cells. Furthermore, continuous delivery of this inhibitor using osmotic pumps considerably reduced the dissemination of MM1 cells implanted into the peritoneal cavity of syngeneic rats. These results indicate that ROCK plays an essential part in tumor cell invasion, and demonstrate its potential as a therapeutic target for the prevention of cancer invasion and metastasis.