Differentially regulated expression of activators and inhibitors of cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks) modulate cell cycle progression. In normal fibroblasts, these complexes consist of the cdk inhibitor p21WAF1/PCNA/G1 cyclin/cdk. We now show that bromodeoxyuridine (BrdUrd), a thymidine analogue and radiation sensitizer, inhibits growth and activity of cyclin A-cdk2 kinase in metastatic C8161 and nonmetastatic neo 6.3/C8161 human melanoma cells. Inhibition is not due to altered levels of cyclin D or catalytic cdk2 but involves a decrease in cyclin A and proliferating cell nuclear antigen, paralleled by higher levels of p21WAF1 without increases in p53. In contrast to serum starvation, which prevents accumulation of cyclins A and D in normal fibroblasts, such treatment did not down-regulate either cyclin in these melanoma cells, implying an aberrant control for G1 cyclins in these tumor cells. However, cyclin A was decreased by BrdUrd, suggesting that this pyrimidine analogue arrests melanoma cells at a G1 transition point, unlike that of serum starvation. This is the first report indicating that the antitumor therapeutic action of BrdUrd may be mediated by a p53-independent reciprocal effect on activators and inhibitors of cdk kinases.