Chemotherapy does not significantly improve prognosis in pancreatic cancer. New therapeutical approaches involving p53 gene replacement appear to be very encouraging due to the key role of p53 in the cell response to DNA damage. Here, we have evaluated the effectiveness of combining wild-type p53 (wt-p53) gene reintroduction (Ad5CMV-p53) and exposure to two genotoxic drugs, gemcitabine and cisplatin, in several human pancreatic cell lines. The efficiency of the combinations was clearly dependent upon timing, as assessed by cell survival determinations. Although wt-p53 transduction before drug treatment induced chemoresistance, p53 transduction in cells treated previously with gemcitabine increased cytotoxicity. Cell cycle profiles showed significant decreases in the percentage of cells in the S phase as a consequence of arrests provoked by the expression of exogenous p53, reducing the number of cells susceptible to the drug. The sensitivity of cells to cisplatin, which has a lower degree of S-phase specificity, was not modified as much by p53 gene replacement. In contrast, the recognition of the previous drug-induced DNA damage by the newly expressed wt-p53 elicited increases in sub-G1 populations, consistent with the annexin determinations and bax/bcl-2 ratios observed. Experiments on subcutaneous pancreatic xenografts corroborated the effectiveness of this approach in vivo. Thus, the combination of p53 transduction and chemotherapy, under a correct schedule of administration, appears to be a very promising therapy for human pancreatic cancer.