The development of new therapies is particularly urgent with regard to pancreatic tumors. Gene therapy approaches involving p53 replacement are promising due to the central role of p53 in the cellular response to DNA damage and the high incidence of p53 mutations in pancreatic tumors. Adenoviruses containing wild-type (wt) p53 cDNA (Ad5CMV-p53) were introduced into four human pancreatic cell lines to examine the impact caused by exogenous wt p53 on these cells. Introduction of wt p53 in mutant p53 cells (NP-9, NP-18, and NP-31) caused marked falls in cell proliferation and rises in the level of apoptosis. In contrast, overexpression of p53 did not induce apoptosis in NP-29 (wt p53). The presence of p16 contributes to the induction of apoptosis, as demonstrated by introduction of the wt p16 gene (Ad5RSV-p16). Analysis of cell cycle and apoptosis in etoposide-treated cells corroborated the inability of NP-29 to die by apoptosis, suggesting that this wt p53 cell line lacks p53 downstream functions in the apoptosis pathway. Taken together, our results indicate that the effects elicited by exogenous p53 protein depend upon the molecular alterations related to p53 actions on cell cycle and apoptosis. Therefore, knowledge of the genetic background of tumor cells is crucial to the development of efficient therapies based on the introduction of tumor suppressor genes.