p53 protein, a tumor suppressor gene product, has been reported to play a crucial role in suppressing the growth of a variety of cancer cells. However, little information is currently available regarding the content of p53 protein in human leiomyomas. The present study was conducted to elucidate the p53 protein content in human leiomyomas and its regulation by sex steroid hormones. The content of p53 protein in leiomyomas was examined by immunohistochemical staining and Western blot analysis in comparison with that in the adjacent normal myometrium or leiomyoma specimens from GnRH agonist-treated patients. In addition, isolated human leiomyoma cells were subcultured in phenol red-free DMEM supplemented with 10% FBS for 120 h and then stepped down to serum-free conditions for an additional 72 h in the absence or presence of 17 beta-estradiol (E2; 10 ng/ml), progesterone (P4; 100 ng/ml), or E2 (10 ng/ml) plus P4 (100 ng/ml). The effects of sex steroids on p53 protein content in cultured leiomyoma cells were also assessed by Western immunoblot analysis. Immunohistochemical staining and Western blot analysis revealed that p53 protein content was highest in leiomyomas treated with GnRH agonist for 16 wk, lower in leiomyomas in the secretory, P4-dominated phase, and lowest in leiomyomas in the proliferative, E2-dominated phase of the menstrual cycle. There was no difference in p53 content between leiomyomas and the adjacent normal myometrium. Western blot analysis of cultured leiomyoma cell extracts revealed that E2 treatment significantly decreased p53 protein content compared with the control cultures, whereas either P4 treatment or combined treatment with E2 and P4 did not affect p53 protein content in cultured leiomyoma cells. The concentrations of sex steroid hormones used were within the physiological tissue concentrations in leiomyomas and myometrium described earlier. The present study suggests that E2 down-regulates p53 protein content, whereas P4 is ineffective in those cells. The E2-induced decrease in p53 protein content in leiomyoma cells leads us to propose that E2 may regulate human leiomyoma growth in part by down-regulating p53 tumor suppressor protein content in those cells.