The cellular mdm2 gene, which has potential transforming activity that can be activated by overexpression, is amplified in a significant percentage of human sarcomas and in other mammalian tumors. Proteins encoded by the mdm2 gene can bind to, and inhibit the function of, the protein product of the p53 tumor suppressor gene. As reported here, we have identified human choriocarcinoma cell lines that express high levels of mdm2 proteins as well as the p53 protein. Several lines of evidence demonstrate that the p53 in these tumor cells has a wild-type nucleotide sequence, although the protein exhibits an extended half-life. Further, the more than 100-fold overexpression of mdm2 proteins in these cells cannot be explained by gene amplification, elevated RNA expression, or altered protein stability; rather our data indicate that elevated mdm2 protein levels in these choriocarcinoma cell lines result from enhanced translation. This mechanism has not previously been implicated in the regulation of mdm2 gene expression, and it represents a novel means by which the potential transforming activity of the mdm2 oncogene could be activated.