Activation of the G(1) checkpoint following DNA damage leads to inhibition of cyclin E-Cdk2 and subsequent G(1) arrest in higher eucaryotes. Little, however, is known about the molecular events downstream of cyclin E-Cdk2 inhibition. Here we show that, in addition to the inhibition of DNA synthesis, ionizing radiation induces downregulation of histone mRNA levels in mammalian cells. This downregulation occurs at the level of transcription and requires functional p53 and p21(CIP1/WAF1) proteins. We demonstrate that DNA damage induced by ionizing radiation results in the suppression of phosphorylation of NPAT, an in vivo substrate of cyclin E-Cdk2 kinase and an essential regulator of histone gene transcription, and its dissociation from histone gene clusters in a p53/p21-dependent manner. Inhibition of Cdk2 activity by specific inhibitors in the absence of DNA damage similarly disperses NPAT from histone gene clusters and represses histone gene expression. Our results thus suggest that inhibition of Cdk2 activity following DNA damage results in the downregulation of histone gene transcription through dissociation of NPAT from histone gene clusters.