The tumour suppressor activity of the p53 protein has been explained by its ability to induce apoptosis in response to a variety of cellular stresses. Thus, understanding the mechanism by which p53 functions in the execution of cell death pathways is of considerable importance in cancer biology. Recent studies have indicated that p53 has a direct signalling role at mitochondria in the induction of apoptosis, although the mechanisms involved are not completely understood. Here we show that, after cell stress, p53 interacts with the pro-apoptotic mitochondrial membrane protein Bak. Interaction of p53 with Bak causes oligomerization of Bak and release of cytochrome c from mitochondria. Notably, we show that formation of the p53-Bak complex coincides with loss of an interaction between Bak and the anti-apoptotic Bcl2-family member Mcl1. These results are consistent with a model in which p53 and Mcl1 have opposing effects on mitochondrial apoptosis by interacting with, and modulating the activity of, the death effector Bak.