In addition to serving a role as a DNA binding-dependent transcriptional activator, p53 has been reported to repress a variety of promoters that lack p53 binding sites. Data from recent studies have suggested that this activity is mediated via an interaction between p53 and the TATA box binding protein (TBP). To investigate the functional relevance of this interaction in vivo, we have performed transient transfection assays in Drosophila Schneider cells. Wild-type p53 was found to repress expression from TATA box- but not initiator (Inr)-containing promoters activated by GAL4-VP16, GAL4-ftzQ or Sp1. A mutant p53(His175), defective in DNA binding and transcriptional activation, also inhibited TATA-dependent transcription activated by Sp1. However, p53 was unable to repress a basal TATA promoter stimulated by overexpression of TBP. Furthermore, overexpression of TBP failed to rescue the p53-mediated repression of activated transcription and a p53 mutant with its N-terminal TBP interaction domain intact, but defective in transcriptional activation and binding to TBP-associated factors (TAFs), was similarly defective in transcriptional repression. These data suggest that a p53-TBP interaction is not sufficient for transcriptional repression by p53 and that repression involves an interaction between p53 and other factors, such as TAFs, that are required for activated but not basal transcription. We suggest that p53-mediated repression results from squelching of a factor limiting for activated transcription from TATA- but not Inr-containing promoters.