We have previously demonstrated that the delta isoform of protein kinase C (PKCdelta) is importantly involved in cell growth inhibition and tumor suppression in colon cancer cells. To investigate further the activity and mechanism of action of PKCdelta, we have retrovirally transduced a PKCdelta cDNA in HCT116 human colon cancer cells. PKCdelta-overexpressing cells (HCT116/PKCdelta) were growth-inhibited, showed marked morphologic changes and underwent multinucleation and phenotypic changes characteristic of mitotic catastrophe. Compared to controls, HCT116/PKCdelta cells showed a highly attenuated tumorigenic profile and poor anchorage-independent growth. In addition, transfected cells established junction-coordinated intercellular communications, expressed cell surface microvilli and overexpressed the colon differentiation marker alkaline phosphatase. HCT116/PKCdelta cells also produced the 89 kDa, carboxy-terminal catalytic domain of PARP. In HCT116/PKCdelta cells, p21(Waf1/Cip1) and p53 were transiently upregulated for 48 hr after PKCdelta transduction. In a p21 null subline of HCT116 cells (HCT116/p21null), overexpression of PKCdelta did not affect tumorigenicity or differentiation, indicating that p21 is essential for the antitumorigenic activity of PKCdelta. Similarly, overexpression of PKCdelta caused no significant phenotypic changes in HCT116/E6 cells, an HCT116 subline in which the p53 protein is downregulated by the human papillomavirus E6 gene product. We conclude that overexpression of PKCdelta in human colon cancer cells induces multiple antineoplastic effects that depend on the activities of p21(Waf1/Cip1) and p53.