Bcl-X(L) mice display a similar neurodevelopmental phenotype as rb, DNA ligase IV, and XRCC4 mutant embryos, suggesting that endogenous Bcl-X(L) expression may protect immature neurons from death caused by DNA damage and/or cell cycle dysregulation. To test this hypothesis, we generated bcl-x/p53 double mutants and examined neuronal cell death in vivo and in vitro. Bcl-X(L)-deficient primary telencephalic neuron cultures were highly susceptible to the apoptotic effects of cytosine arabinoside (AraC), a known genotoxic agent. In contrast, neurons lacking p53, or both Bcl-X(L) and p53, were markedly, and equivalently, resistant to AraC-induced caspase-3 activation and death in vitro indicating that Bcl-X(L) lies downstream of p53 in DNA damage-induced neuronal death. Despite the ability of p53 deficiency to protect Bcl-X(L)-deficient neurons from DNA damage-induced apoptosis in vitro, p53 deficiency had no effect on the increased caspase-3 activation and neuronal cell death observed in the developing Bcl-X(L)-deficient nervous system. These findings suggest that Bcl-X(L) expression in the developing nervous system critically regulates neuronal responsiveness to an apoptotic stimulus other than inadequate DNA repair or cell cycle abnormalities.