E1A of human adenovirus type 5 (Ad5) encodes proteins of 289 and 243 residues (289R and 243R) which differ only by the 46 amino acid CR3 region known to activate expression of certain cellular and early viral genes. E1A proteins also induce DNA synthesis and cell transformation, but as well can stimulate apoptosis. Two adenovirus E1B products act to protect cells from E1A-induced cell death, including a 19 kDa protein which is functionally similar to the cellular Bcl-2 suppressor of apoptosis, and a 55 kDa species which binds to and inhibits p53. Previous studies suggested that E1A-induced cell death occurs via a p53-dependent mechanism requiring regions of E1A proteins linked to induction of DNA synthesis and cell transformation. We report here that the 289R E1A protein induces apoptosis in cell lines lacking p53, whereas the 243R product was dependent upon p53. We also show that this p53-independent process involves the expression of one or more additional viral proteins which are presumably synthesized in response to transactivation by 289R. Thus E1A proteins induce cell death by both p53-dependent and p53-independent mechanisms involving separate E1A functions.