Cell cycle progression is under the control of cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks), the activity of which is dependent on the expression of specific cdk inhibitors. In this paper we report that the two cdk inhibitors, p27(Kip1) and p18(INK4c), are differently expressed and control different steps of human B lymphocyte activation. Resting B cells contain large amounts of p27(Kip1) and no p18(INK4c). In vitro stimulation by Staphylococcus aureus Cowan 1 strain or CD40 ligand associated with IL-10 and IL-2 induces a rapid decrease in p27(Kip1) expression combined with cell cycle entry and progression. In contrast, in vitro Ig production correlates with specific expression of p18(INK4c) and early G(1) arrest. This G(1) arrest is associated with inhibition of cyclin D3/cdk6-mediated retinoblastoma protein phosphorylation by p18(INK4c). A similar contrasting pattern of p18(INK4c) and p27(Kip1) expression is observed both in B cells activated in vivo and in various leukemic cells. Expression of p18(INK4c) was also detected in various Ig-secreting cell lines in which both maximum Ig secretion and specific p18(INK4c) expression were observed during the G(1) phase. Our study shows that p27(Kip1) and p18(INK4c) have different roles in B cell activation; p27(Kip1) is involved in the control of cell cycle entry, and p18(INK4c) is involved in the subsequent early G(1) arrest necessary for terminal B lymphocyte differentiation.