DEC1 (also known as Stra13/Bhlhb2/Sharp2) and DEC2 (also known as Bhlhb3/Sharp1) are two paralogous basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcriptional regulators which exhibit a robust circadian gene expression pattern in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) and in peripheral organs. DEC1 has been suggested to play key roles in mammalian cell differentiation, the cell cycle and circadian regulation, hypoxia response, and carcinogenesis. Here we show that DEC1 overexpression exhibits delayed wound healing and reduces cell proliferation, migration, and invasion. DEC1 strongly repressed the promoter activity of cyclin D1. We further identify a possible DEC-response element in the cyclin D1 promoter region, and confirmed the direct binding of DEC1 to that element. Forced expression of DEC1 efficiently repressed the cyclin D1 promoter and expression. Our clinical data provide the first evidence that there is a strong inverse correlation between DEC1 and cyclin D1 expression in oral cancer, and DEC1 expression significantly correlated with clinicopathological parameters. We suggest that radiation-induced DEC1 overexpression and Akt phosphorylation in cancer cells are mediated via PI-3K signalling. Overexpression of DEC1 activates the PI-3K/Akt signalling pathway through reactive oxygen species (ROS). Copyright © 2011 Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.