The nucleolus is the site of ribosomal gene transcription, processing of rRNA transcripts and maturation of preribosomal particles. Recent studies have shown that nucleoli are also involved in processes as diverse as aging, proliferation control, stress response and mitotic regulation. The proliferation-dependent nucleolar antigen pKi-67 is a sensitive marker of both proliferative activity and nucleolar integrity. We show that staining for the nucleolar-associated antigen pKi-67 is lost from nucleoli during growth arrest following UV irradiation. Surprisingly, before cells enter growth arrest, Ki-67 staining translocates from nucleolar to nucleoplasmic sites within 4-6 h of irradiation. Ki-67 redistribution is accompanied by segregation of nucleolar components. The timing of p53 response correlates well with pKi-67 translocation, growth arrest and restoration of proliferation. However, nucleolar segregation and pKi-67 translocation occur in the absence of functional p53 and other components of damage response pathways (DNA-PK, CSA, CSB, XPA, XPC, ATM ATR, p38(MAPK) and MEK1). Neither gamma-irradiation nor H(2)O(2) treatment causes pKi-67 translocation or loss of nucleolar integrity. In marked contrast, treatment of cells with UV-mimetic 4-NQO does induce nucleolar disruption and relocalisation of pKi-67, suggesting that bulky adduct formation in rDNA rather than strand breaks is sufficient to cause nucleolar segregation. Our data reveal a previously unrecognized cellular response to genotoxic stress and may reveal novel pathways leading to growth arrest.