A major phenotype seen in neurodegenerative disorders is the selective loss of neurons due to apoptotic death and evidence suggests that inappropriate re-activation of cell cycle proteins in post-mitotic neurons may be responsible. To investigate whether reactivation of the G1 cell cycle proteins and S phase entry was linked with apoptosis, we examined homocysteine-induced neuronal cell death in a rat cortical neuron tissue culture system. Hyperhomocysteinaemia is a physiological risk factor for a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease. We found that in response to homocysteine treatment, cyclin D1, and cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 2 translocated to the nucleus, and p27 levels decreased. Both cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 2 regained catalytic activity, the G1 gatekeeper retinoblastoma protein was phosphorylated and DNA synthesis was detected, suggesting transit into S phase. Double-labelling immunofluorescence showed a 95% co-localization of anti-bromodeoxyuridine labelling with apoptotic markers, demonstrating that those cells that entered S phase eventually died. Neurons could be protected from homocysteine-induced death by methods that inhibited G1 phase progression, including down-regulation of cyclin D1 expression, inhibition of cyclin-dependent kinases 4 or 2 activity by small molecule inhibitors, or use of the c-Abl kinase inhibitor, Gleevec™, which blocked cyclin D and cyclin-dependent kinase 4 nuclear translocation. However, blocking cell cycle progression post G1, using DNA replication inhibitors, did not prevent apoptosis, suggesting that death was not preventable post the G1-S phase checkpoint. While homocysteine treatment caused DNA damage and activated the DNA damage response, its mechanism of action was distinct from that of more traditional DNA damaging agents, such as camptothecin, as it was p53-independent. Likewise, inhibition of the DNA damage sensors, ataxia-telangiectasia mutant and ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3 related proteins, did not rescue apoptosis and in fact exacerbated death, suggesting that the DNA damage response might normally function neuroprotectively to block S phase-dependent apoptosis induction. As cell cycle events appear to be maintained in vivo in affected neurons for weeks to years before apoptosis is observed, activation of the DNA damage response might be able to hold cell cycle-induced death in check.