Human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV-16) is a DNA tumor virus that is associated with human anogenital cancers and encodes two transforming proteins, E6 and E7. The E7 protein has been shown to bind to the retinoblastoma tumor suppressor gene product, pRB. This study shows that the E6 protein of HPV-16 is capable of binding to the cellular p53 protein. The ability of the E6 proteins from different human papillomaviruses to form complexes with p53 was assayed and found to correlate with the in vivo clinical behavior and the in vitro transforming activity of these different papillomaviruses. The wild-type p53 protein has tumor suppressor properties and has also been found in association with large T antigen and the E1B 55-kilodalton protein in cells transformed by SV40 and by adenovirus type 5, respectively, providing further evidence that the human papillomaviruses, the adenoviruses, and SV40 may effect similar cellular pathways in transformation.