The p53 tumor suppressor protein is susceptible to oxidation, which prevents it from binding to its DNA response element. The goal of the current research was to determine the nature of the cysteine residue thiol oxidation that prevents p53 from binding its DNA target and its effect on p53 structure. Recombinant p53, purified in the presence of the reducing agent dithiothreitol (DTT), contains five free thiol groups on the surface of the protein. In the absence of DTT, p53 contains only four thiol groups, indicating that an average of one surface thiol group is readily susceptible to oxidation. Sulfite-mediated disulfide bond cleavage followed by reaction with 2-nitro-5-thiosulfobenzoate showed that oxidized p53 contains a single disulfide bond per monomer. By atomic force microscopy, we determined that reduced p53 binds to a double-stranded DNA containing the p53 promoter element of the MDM2 gene. The DNA-bound reduced p53 has an average cross-sectional diameter of 8.61 nm and a height of 4.12 nm. The amount of oxidized p53 that bound to the promoter element was ninefold lower, and it has an 18% larger average cross-sectional diameter. Electromobility shift assays showed that binding of oxidized p53 to DNA was enhanced upon addition of DTT, indicating that oxidation is reversible. The possibility that oxidized p53 contained significant amounts of sulfenic (-SOH), sulfinic (-SO2H), or sulfonic acid (-SO3H) was ruled out. Gel filtration chromatography indicated that oxidation increases the percentage of p53 monomers and high-molecular-weight oligomers (>1,000 kDa) relative to tetrameric p53. Protein modeling studies suggest that a mixed disulfide glutathione adduct on Cys182 could account for the observed stoichiometry of oxidized thiols and structural changes. The glutathione adduct may prevent proper helix-helix interaction within the DNA binding domain and contribute to tetramer dissociation.