We present evidence for the possible involvement of both the RB and p53 proteins in the regulation of cellular senescence. Human fibroblasts immortalized with an inducible SV40 T-antigen become senescent following the de-induction of T-antigen. Plasmids expressing an alternative source of intact T-antigen restore proliferation but T-antigen deletion mutants lacking either the RB or p53 binding domains are unable to do so. Similarly, combinations of adenovirus E1A + E1B or human papillomavirus E6 + E7 genes are able to replace T-antigen functions and permit cell proliferation, whereas the individual genes do not. These results are discussed in terms of a two-stage model for the escape from in vitro cellular senescence.