The overexpression of P-glycoprotein is thought to be responsible for resistance to chemotherapy in some non-responsive cancers. The mechanism by which P-glycoprotein is overexpressed in human tumors is poorly understood. However, several lines of evidence suggest that the major regulatory mechanism of P-glycoprotein overexpression in human tumors is at the transcriptional level. During tumor progression one of the most commonly observed alterations is mutation of the p53 tumor-suppressor gene. It has been shown that the p53 protein plays a role in transcriptional regulation. To gain insight into the effect p53 protein may have on P-glycoprotein promoter activity, we transiently co-transfected plasmids containing the hamster pgp1 or human mdr1 promoter linked to the chloramphenicol acetyltransferase (CAT) reporter gene with plasmids encoding either wild-type or mutant p53 protein into Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. In this report, we show that wild-type p53 protein represses P-glycoprotein promoter activity, while mutant forms of p53 protein enhance P-glycoprotein promoter activity. Furthermore, we present data which indicate that the transcriptional regulatory effects of p53 are mediated through interactions with pgp1/mdr1 core promoter sequences. These findings have implications for our understanding of the molecular mechanism(s) by which p53 protein functions as a transcriptional regulator of gene expression. In addition, our results suggest a mechanism by which P-glycoprotein may be overexpressed in human cancers that also express mutant forms of p53 protein.