The wild-type (wt) human tumor-suppressor gene product, p53, and its mutant form have been analysed in an in vivo system in which the inducible expression of wt p53 results in growth arrest in the G1 phase of the cell cycle. Two major pools of p53 are detected after wt p53 expression by their differential reactivity with the p53 monoclonal antibodies PAb 421 and 1801 as well as the mutant and wt-specific monoclonal antibodies PAb 240 and 1620; one pool contains wt and mutant p53 and is characterized as having a mutant conformation, whereas the other pool contains only wt p53 with a wt conformation. As G1 arrest is entered, the amount of wt p53 associated with the mutant pool decreases, such that by 12 h free wt and mutant p53 are the major pools. Two-dimensional gel analysis of the p53 pools revealed that free wt p53 is phosphorylated to a greater degree than mutant p53, which correlated with the loss of the PAb 421 epitope on wt p53. In summary, the ability of wt p53 to exert an antiproliferative effect correlates with the presence of a unique conformational state of wt p53 characterized by increased phosphorylation and the loss of both the PAb 421 epitope and association with mutant p53 pool, whereas mutant p53 is unable to assume this conformational state.