The tumor suppressor p53 is required for induction of its downstream effector genes such as GADD45 and CIP1/WAF1 by ionizing radiation (IR). This response is probably mediated through defined p53 binding sites located in the promoter of CIP1/WAF1 and in the third intron of GADD45. In contrast, the gadd gene stress response to base-damaging agents, such as methylmethane sulfonate (MMS) or UV radiation, or medium depletion (starvation) occurs in all mammalian cells examined to date regardless of p53 status for both GADD45 and also GADD153, which is not IR-responsive in many lines with functional p53. These agents strongly induce the p53 protein and raise the possibility that, although p53 is not required for the typical "gadd" response to these agents, p53 may contribute to these non-IR stress responses. This possibility was confirmed by the finding that disruption of p53 function by transfection with dominant-negative vectors expressing HPV E6, mutant p53, or SV40 T Ag reduced the induction of GADD45 and GADD153 as measured by increases in mRNA and protein levels in human lines with wild-type p53. Similarly, induction of these genes by MMS or UV radiation was consistently stronger in the parental mouse embryo fibroblasts compared to cells derived from mice where both p53 alleles had been deleted. Similar qualitative responses were also seen for CIP1/WAF1. In agreement with reduced induction of p53-regulated genes, the G1 checkpoint activated by MMS or UV radiation was markedly abrogated in p53-wt human MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells by E6 expression. Interestingly, induction of reporter constructs driven by the GADD45 or GADD153 promoters was substantially reduced in human cells transfected with mutant p53 or E6 expression vectors or in cells lacking p53 following treatment with MMS, UV radiation, or starvation. Because neither promoter is inducible by IR, and neither contains a strong p53 binding site, these results indicate that p53 has a synergistic or cooperative role in these non-IR stress responses for both GADD45 and GADD153, and that this role is not mediated through identifiable p53-binding sites.