Activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3) is an immediate early response gene that is induced in cells exposed to a variety of stress stimuli. In this report, upon exposure of cells to ultraviolet (UV) or proteasome inhibitor MG132, ATF3 protein was induced more efficiently in cells with intact p53 allele than in those with null mutant p53 allele. In Saos-2 cells harboring the temperature-sensitive mutant p53(Val-138), the expression of ATF3 gene was more significant at permissive temperature of 32.5 degrees C than at non-permissive 37.5 degrees C. Reporter assay of the human ATF3 gene promoter identified two p53-responsive elements at -379 to -370 and -351 to -342 from the transcriptional start site. These elements were capable of conferring p53 responsiveness to a heterologous promoter and specifically bound p53 protein in electrophoretic mobility shift assay. Furthermore, ATF3 gene promoter was more significantly activated by UV in cells with wild p53 allele. These results clearly show that the human ATF3 gene is one of the target genes directly activated by p53 and may suggest a functional link between stress-inducible transcriptional repressor ATF3 and p53.