The human tumour suppressor protein p53 is critical for regulation of the cell cycle on genotoxic insult. When DNA is damaged by radiation, chemicals or viral infection, cells respond rapidly by arresting the cell cycle. A G1 arrest requires the activity of wild-type p53, as it is not observed in cells lacking functionally wild-type protein, and at least some component of S phase and G2/M arrests is also thought to be p53-dependent. p53 functions as a transcription factor which binds specific DNA sequences, and recently major downstream targets have been identified, including p21Cip1, an inhibitor of the cell cycle kinases that also blocks the replicative but not the repair function of DNA polymerase delta auxiliary factor, PCNA. Current interest focuses on developing novel cancer therapies based on our knowledge of the activity of p53 and p21Cip1 in the cell cycle.