The roles of p53 as an inducer and Bcl-2 as an inhibitor of apoptotic death were explored in lymphoid cells. Lymphocytes from p53-/- mice were radioresistant, but unexpectedly, cycling T lymphoma cells and mitogenically activated T lymphocytes from these animals underwent apoptosis after irradiation or genotoxic drug treatment. Hence, p53 is not the only mediator of apoptosis provoked by DNA damage. Irradiated p53-/- lymphoblasts expressing Bcl-2 were subject to growth arrest but resisted apoptosis. Their accumulation in G1 as well as G2 is suggestive of a p53-independent DNA-damage G1 checkpoint. Since Bcl-2 increased the clonogenic survival of the irradiated cells, expression of survival genes may pose a greater impediment to genotoxic cancer therapy than loss of p53.