The tumor suppressor p53 plays a central role in the cellular responses to genotoxic stress. Besides its well known role in activation of the G1 checkpoint after exposure to agents like ionizing radiation and its role in apoptosis, the possibility exists that p53 may have additional roles, such as in DNA repair. For example, p53, is known to bind to single strand DNA such as would occur during repair events, and the proteins encoded by two p53-regulated genes have previously been found to bind to at least one protein involved in DNA damage processing including nucleotide excision repair (NER). NER is an important and versatile DNA repair mechanism, which is the major pathway for repair of u.v.-type lesions and damage by a variety of important carcinogens and mutagens. If components of the p53 pathway are involved in NER, then disruption of p53 function by mutations or expression of certain viral proteins could have important implications in carcinogenesis and cancer treatment. In the present study we show that disruption of normal p53 function in human colon carcinoma RKO cells with either the human papillomavirus E6 oncoprotein or a dominant-negative mutant p53 transgene results in reduced repair of u.v.-induced DNA damage. The E6 and mutant p53-containing cell lines demonstrated reduced repair of u.v.-induced DNA lesions in host cell reactivation experiments with reporter plasmids, and reduced repair in in vitro DNA repair assays. With this in vitro assay, extracts from the E6- and mutant p53-containing lines also showed loss of induced repair following cellular u.v.-irradiation. The reduced DNA repair activity of the transfected cell lines also correlated with reduced clonogenic survival following u.v.-irradiation. These results indicate that p53 and/or p53-regulated gene products function in the NER pathway and that this process is inducible by DNA damage.