The human prostatic carcinoma cell line LNCaP is sensitive to TNF-alpha treatment and expresses wild-type p53. To analyse the possible role of p53 in TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis, we generated a derivative of LNCaP, LN-56, expressing a dominant-negative element of p53, GSE56. P53 inactivation in LN-56 was associated with an increased resistance to apoptosis induced by TNF-alpha. Surface expression of TNF-alpha receptors was unchanged in LN-56 compared to LNCaP. TNF-alpha treatment resulted in accumulation of p53 in LNCaP and upregulation of p21/WAF1. Activation of caspase-7 and PARP proteolysis were delayed in LN-56 under TNF-alpha treatment. TNF-alpha-induced apoptosis in LNCaP cells was accompanied by caspase-dependent proteolysis of p21/WAF1 and Rb, which was significantly attenuated in LN-56. Cytochrome c release was induced by TNF-alpha treatment in both cell lines, but caspase-9 was not activated. LNCaP and LN-56 were injected s.c. in nude mice and tumors were identified in all LN-56, but not LNCaP, bearing mice indicating that p53 plays an important role in growth control of prostatic neoplasms. Interestingly, accumulation of p53 in TNF-alpha-treated LNCaP cells was decreased in the presence of the caspase inhibitor Z-VAD-FMK, suggesting a new role of activated caspases in acceleration of p53 response. In summary, these results indicate that p53 is involved in TNF-alpha-mediated apoptosis in LNCaP.