Post-lactational involution of the mammary gland provides a system in which to study the expression and function of genes that regulate apoptosis in the context of a normal tissue. The functions of the p53 tumor suppressor gene have been extensively studied as a mediator of apoptosis in response to DNA damage, but its regulation in normal physiologic processes has been poorly characterized. Expression of p53 mRNA was shown to be among the first genes to be induced in mammary tissue following weaning of neonates. Although involution proceeds in the absence of a functional p53 gene, it is delayed compared to normal individuals. Therefore, involution can be viewed as biphasic with initial responses being sensitive to p53, whereas secondary responses being p53-independent. These observations can be exploited to determine the subset of genes that are p53-responsive and that mediate the effects of p53 in normal mammary tissue.