The tumor growth suppressor p21 has been shown to be induced by wild-type p53 (wt-p53) and to be a potent inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases and PCNA/DNA polymerase delta. Although wt-p53 is reported to be phosphorylated by several protein kinases, the function and significance of the phosphorylation of wt-p53 are not yet fully understood. Using OK-1035, a selective inhibitor of DNA-dependent protein kinase (DNA-PK), we demonstrated the importance of the phosphorylation of wt-p53 by DNA-PK in the DNA damage-mediated expression of the p21 gene. Treatment of HCT116, a human colon carcinoma cell line, with adriamycin induced the expression of wt-p53 and p21. By addition of OK-1035 to this culture, the induction of p21 protein was significantly decreased in a dose-dependent manner, whereas wt-p53 induction was not affected. Northern blot analysis revealed that suppression of p21 protein expression by OK-1035 resulted from reduction in the level of p21 mRNA. OK-1035 did not directly affect the binding ability of wt-p53 to its consensus DNA sequence. Our observations support the idea that wt-p53 induces the transcriptional activation of the p21 gene only after it is phosphorylated by DNA-PK.