Point mutations in the p53 gene are the most frequently identified genetic change in human cancer. They convert murine p53 from a tumour suppressor gene into a dominant transforming oncogene able to immortalize primary cells and bring about full transformation in combination with an activated ras gene. In both the human and murine systems the mutations lie in regions of p53 conserved from man to Xenopus. We have developed a monoclonal antibody to p53 designated PAb240 which does not immunoprecipitate wild type p53. A series of different p53 mutants all react more strongly with PAb240 than with PAb246. The PAb240 reactive form of p53 cannot bind to SV40 large T antigen but does bind to HSP70. In contrast, the PAb246 form binds to T antigen but not to HSP70. PAb240 recognizes all forms of p53 when they are denatured. It reacts with all mammalian p53 and chicken p53 in immunoblots. We propose that immunoprecipitation of p53 by PAb240 is diagnostic of mutation in both murine and human systems and suggest that the different point mutations which convert p53 from a recessive to a dominant oncogene exert a common conformational effect on the protein. This conformational change abolishes T antigen binding and promotes self-oligomerization. These results are consistent with a dominant negative model where mutant p53 protein binds to and neutralizes the activity of p53 in the wild type conformation.