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Abnormalities in G1/S transition in cell cultures have been attributed to alterations in ErbB (erythroblastic leukaemia viral [v-erb-b] oncogene homologue, avian) signalling, cyclin D1 overexpression or disturbance of the p21WAF1 (p21)-mediated cell cycle arrest induced by p53. To investigate the significance of these mechanisms on an early stage of human breast tumour growth, we studied the expression of EGFR (ErbB1), HER-2/neu (ErbB2), cyclin D1, p21 and p53 as well as oestrogen (ER) and progesterone receptor (PgR) in paraffin sections of 45 ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) by immunohistochemistry. Cell proliferation was assessed by immunohistochemical quantification of Ki-67. Five cases with cyclin D1 overexpression were analysed by FISH for CCND1 amplification. Increased proliferative activity was observed in 46% of DCIS. It was correlated with the expression of EGFR and HER-2/neu (p < 0.05), but neither with cyclin D1 and p21 overexpression nor with p53 accumulation. ErbB positive status was associated with p21 overexpression (p < 0.05). In addition we found a correlation between the overexpression of p21 and cyclin D1 restricted to ErbB-positive cases (p = 0.013). ErbB-negative tumours with increased proliferative activity were ER and cyclin D1 positive. No CCND1 amplification was detected in the analysed cases. In conclusion, our data support that EGFR and HER-2/neu play an important role in cell cycle control in DCIS. p21 appears to be a potential mediator of ErbB signalling. We propose that cyclin D1 could be indirectly induced by ErbB signalling through p21. Besides, ER-mediated upregulation of cyclin D1 seems to be a possible mechanism of maintaining cell proliferation in DCIS in case of EGFR- and HER-2/neu-negativity.