The tumor suppresser p53 is a cell cycle checkpoint protein that contributes to the preservation of genetic stability by mediating either a G1 arrest or apoptosis in response to DNA damage. p53 causes growth arrest through transcriptional activation of the cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor p21. During p53-mediated suppression of cell proliferation, p21 is important for coordinating cell cycle progression, DNA replication, and repair of damaged DNA. The purpose of this study is to investigate the expression of p53 and p21 mRNA in association with DNA damage and normal repair in acute immune complex alveolitis in mice. Male ICR mice were injected intravenously with IgG antibodies against oval albumin, aerosolized with oval albumin solution, and killed at 4, 6, 12, 24, and 48 hours and 1 week after aerosolization. We assessed the expression of p53 and p21 mRNA by reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR and by RT in situ PCR. We also assessed DNA damage by terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase mediated biotin-dUTP nick-end-labeling (TUNEL) and by gel electrophoresis of DNA extracted from lung tissues. The results of RT-PCR and RT in situ PCR showed that p53 and p21 mRNA were concurrently up-regulated at 4 to 48 hours after aerosolization in alveolar epithelial cells. Bronchial and alveolar epithelial cells were positively stained by TUNEL in this period but not at 1 week after aerosolization or in control mice. The result of electrophoretic analysis of DNA was compatible with that of TUNEL. These studies suggest that the responses of p53 and p21 mRNA are associated with physiologic processes of DNA damage and repair in acute immune complex alveolitis in mice.