Antiestrogens are widely used for breast cancer treatment, where they act primarily by inhibiting the mitogenic action of estrogens on tumor cells. The effects of the pure antiestrogen ICI 182,780 on estrogen-regulated cell cycle phase-specific events were investigated here in synchronously cycling human breast cancer (HBC) cells. In early G(1)-arrested MCF-7 or ZR-75.1 cells, 17beta-estradiol (E2) induces rapid activation of the cyclin/Cdk/pRb pathway, as demonstrated by D-type G(1) cyclins accumulation during the first few hours of hormonal stimulation, followed by sequential accumulation of E, A and B1 cyclins and progressive pRb phosphorylation, as cells progress through the cell cycle. When added to quiescent cells together with E2, ICI 182,780 prevents all of the above hormonal effects. Interestingly, in mid-G(1) cells (2-8 h into estrogen stimulation) the antiestrogen causes rapid reversal of hormone-induced D-type cyclins accumulation and pRb phosphorylation, and still fully inhibits G(1)-S transition rate, while in late-G(1) cells it does not prevent S phase entry but still inhibits significantly DNA synthesis rate, S-phase cyclins accumulation and pRb hyperphosphorylation. These results indicate that pure antiestrogens prevent multiple estrogen-induced cell cycle-regulatory events, each timed to allow efficient G(1) completion, G(1)-S transition, DNA synthesis and cell cycle completion.