The tumor suppressor protein p53 plays a central role in the cellular response to genotoxic lesions and has been shown to be activated by most anticancer agents such as mitomycin C. We here show that mitomycin C treatment of human MCF7 breast adenocarcinoma cells results in increased topoisomerase I activity as measured by relaxation of supercoiled DNA and by phosphorylation of SR protein splicing factor. The increase in catalytic activity occurs in parallel with the nuclear accumulation of p53, resulting in detectable activation of topoisomerase I within less than 1 h of drug treatment. Furthermore, topoisomerase I co-immunoprecipitates with nuclear p53, suggesting that the activation of topoisomerase I may be a result of a direct interaction between the two proteins. In vitro experiments with purified recombinant proteins show that p53 increases the catalytic activities of topoisomerase I as measured by relaxation of supercoiled DNA, stabilization of the covalent topoisomerase I-DNA complex (in the presence of camptothecin), and phosphorylation of SR protein splicing factor ASF/SF2. Furthermore, topoisomerase I sediments at a higher molecular weight in the presence of p53 as revealed by sucrose density gradient analysis in the absence of DNA. Finally, p53 modifies the thermal stability of topoisomerase I, protecting it from heat denaturation. Taken together, our results show that topoisomerase I and p53 form molecular complexes in vitro as in vivo, and we suggest that the p53-mediated response to DNA damage may, at least in part, involve activation of topoisomerase I.