The p53 protein is a multifunctional transcription factor which orchestrates cellular responses to DNA damage, so helping to conserve genomic stability. It may also regulate genes involved in intercellular signalling, such as thrombospondin, a negative regulator of angiogenesis and metastatic spread. Activation of p53 target genes requires sequence-specific DNA binding, a function which maps to the central core of the protein. Missense point mutations within this domain inactivate p53 tumour suppressor function and involve either (i) DNA contact residues, or (ii) residues important for conformational structure. Using in vitro techniques we have analysed seven DNA contact mutants and 17 structural mutants known to occur in cancer. We show that DNA contact mutants can be carried into specific DNA interaction when co-expressed with wild type protein. For structural mutants, 9/17 retained DNA binding capacity and, with one exception, DNA binding correlated with conformational flexibility of the mutant protein. The exception was Asp281, which appeared essential for DNA interaction, probably due to its ability to form salt bridges with DNA contact residues Arg273 and Arg280. We suggest that different classes of p53 mutant may prove amenable to different strategies for restoration of wild type tumour suppressor function as means of anti-cancer therapy.