The p53 gene is frequently mutated in a wide variety of human cancers. However, the role of the wild-type p53 gene in growth control is not known. Hybrid proteins that contain the DNA binding domain of yeast GAL4 and portions of p53 have been used to show that the p53 protein contains a transcription-activating sequence that functions in both yeast and mammalian cells. The NH2-terminal 73 residues of p53 activated transcription in mammalian cells as efficiently as the herpes virus protein VP16, which contains one of the strongest known activation domains. Combined with previous data that showed p53 is localized to the nucleus and can bind to DNA, these results support the idea that one function of p53 is to activate the transcription of genes that suppress cell proliferation.