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Peripheral blood T lymphocytes require two sequential mitogenic signals to reenter the cell cycle from their natural, quiescent state. One signal is provided by stimulation of the T-cell antigen receptor, and this induces the synthesis of both cyclins and cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs) that are necessary for progression through G1. Antigen receptor stimulation alone, however, is insufficient to promote activation of G1 cyclin-Cdk2 complexes. This is because quiescent lymphocytes contain an inhibitor of Cdk2 that binds directly to this kinase and prevents its activation by cyclins. The second mitogenic signal, which can be provided by the cytokine interleukin 2, leads to inactivation of this inhibitor, thereby allowing Cdk2 activation and progression into S phase. Enrichment of the Cdk2 inhibitor from G1 lymphocytes by cyclin-CDK affinity chromatography indicates that it may be p27Kip1. These observations show how sequentially acting mitogenic signals can combine to promote activation of cell cycle proteins and thereby cause cell proliferation to start. CDK inhibitors have been shown previously to be induced by signals that negatively regulate cell proliferation. Our new observations show that similar proteins are down-regulated by positively acting signals, such as interleukin 2. This finding suggests that both positive and negative growth signals converge on common targets which are regulators of G1 cyclin-CDK complexes. Inactivation of G1 cyclin-CDK inhibitors by mitogenic growth factors may be one biochemical pathway underlying cell cycle commitment at the restriction point in G1.