Induction of apoptosis is a function of both an external stimulus and the physiology of the cell, which includes the expression of multiple oncogenes and tumor suppressors. Here we have studied the apoptotic response of immortalized mouse fibroblasts to serum withdrawal. We show that, in addition to the p53-independent apoptosis observed in p53- cells, overexpression of wild-type p53 tumor suppressor results in a high rate of programmed cell death. However, physiological range, low levels of the p53 protein protect fibroblasts from induction of apoptosis. Our results indicate that, as a function of its dose, the wild-type p53 can either protect from death or promote apoptosis. This new, anti-apoptotic, activity of p53 may have implications for the understanding of the role played by p53 in embryonic development as well as in initial stages of oncogenesis.