The tumor suppressor p53 gene plays a key role in controlling the cell cycle checkpoint and in apoptosis following the exposure of normal cells to DNA damage. To investigate the role of p53 in cytosine arabinoside (Ara C)-induced cell death of CNS neurons, we examined the effect of Ara C on the survival of cultured cerebellar granule neurons from normal wild-type and p53 null mutant mice. When the neurons from wild-type mice were cultured with Ara C, they gradually died after 24 h in culture. In contrast, the neurons from p53 null mutant mice showed a resistance to the Ara C neurotoxicity. These results indicate that p53 involves Ara C-induced apoptosis in cultured cerebellar granule neurons, in which DNA damage may initiate the apoptotic death program of the neurons.