The c-Jun N-terminal kinase/stress-activated protein kinase (JNK/SAPK) pathway is activated by numerous cellular stresses. Although it has been implicated in mediating apoptosis and growth factor signaling, its role in regulating cell growth is not yet clear. Here, the influence of JNK on basal (unstimulated) growth of human tumor glioblastoma T98G cells was investigated using highly specific JNK antisense oligonucleotides to inhibit JNK expression. Transient depletion of either JNK1 or JNK2 suppressed cell growth associated with an inhibition of DNA synthesis and cell cycle arrest in S phase. The growth-inhibitory potency of JNK2 antisense ((JNK)2 IC(50) = 0.14 micrometer) was greater than that of JNK1 antisense ((JNK)1 IC(50) = 0.37 micrometer), suggesting that JNK2 plays a dominant role in regulating growth of T98G cells. Indeed, JNK2 antisense-treated populations exhibited greater inhibition of DNA synthesis and accumulation of S-phase cells than did the JNK1 antisense-treated cultures, with a significant proportion of these cells detaching from the tissue culture plate. JNK2 (but not JNK1) antisense-treated cultures exhibited marked elevation in the expression of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21(cip1/waf1) accompanied by inhibition of Cdk2/Cdc2 kinase activities. Taken together, these results indicate that JNK is required for growth of T98G cells in nonstress conditions and that p21(cip1/waf1) may contribute to the sustained growth arrest of JNK2-depleted T98G cultures.