As tumours are known to acidify their microenvironment and fluctuations in lumenal pH have been reported in a number of colonic disease conditions, we investigated whether loss of p53 function, commonly associated with the adenoma to carcinoma transition in human colorectal epithelium, was implicated in the cellular response to changes in extracellular pH. Human colonic adenoma and carcinoma derived cell lines were incubated at an initial pH range of 5.5-8.0 and the attached cell yield and apoptotic cell yield determined after 4 days. Exposure of all cell lines to an acidic growth environment was associated with a G1 arrest, down regulation of the retinoblastoma protein (pRb) protein and switch to the hypophosphorylated form of the protein, and increased expression of the p21 protein. However, induction of apoptosis, associated with increased p53 protein expression but not with changes in Bcl-2 expression, was only detected in the adenoma derived BH/C1 and AA/C1 cell lines which express wild type p53 activity. Furthermore, this induction of apoptosis was inhibited in the transfected cell line AA/273p53/B, in which the wild type p53 function has been abrogated. These results suggest that acidification of the microenvironment would provide a selective growth advantage for cells that have lost wild type p53 function, leading to clonal expansion of aberrant cell populations.