D-type cyclins are induced in response to mitogens and are believed to control progression through the G1 phase of the cell cycle by activating their corresponding kinase partners (cyclin-dependent kinases). To investigate the function of individual D-type cyclins we have constructed rat fibroblast lines that allow controllable overexpression of a human cyclin D3 cDNA. Overexpression of cyclin D3 led to accelerated passage through G1 in actively proliferating cells with no effect on the overall population doubling time. In cells re-entering the division cycle from a quiescent state, cyclin D3 caused an even more dramatic advancement of S phase entry. Accelerated progression through G0/G1-to-S correlated with premature phosphorylation of the pRb tumor suppressor protein and its relatives, p107 and p130. We conclude that cyclin D3 can act as a rate-limiting G1 cyclin and that this effect involves, in part, the premature phosphorylation of critical substrates.