A number of viral oncogenes target the tumour suppressor protein p53 and inactivate its function. This is an important step in tumourogenesis. The cellular oncogene hdm2 acts through a similar mechanism. It binds the N terminus of p53, thereby interfering with the ability of p53 transcriptionally to activate genes responsible for growth arrest or apoptosis after genotoxic insults. The disruption of the interaction of the two proteins therefore comprises a promising therapeutic target for treatment of the subset of human cancers in which this pathway is active. In this paper we attempt to characterize the p53-hdm2 interaction biochemically. We analyse the potential of a series of peptide inhibitors, derived from previously described mdm2 binding peptide display phage, to disrupt this interaction in ELISA assays. We conclude that F19, W23 and L26 of p53 are critical contact points for p53 binding to hdm2. Furthermore, we show the potential of the monoclonal antibody 3G5 to interfere with binding of p53 to hdm2 in ELISA assays. Consequently, we define the binding site of 3G5 on hdm2 using overlapping peptides derived from the N terminus of hdm2 and phage display libraries. The result indicates L66, Y67 and E69 on hdm2 as critical binding points for 3G5. In electrophoretic mobility shift assay we demonstrate the formation of hdm2-p53 complexes that can be disrupted in the presence of 3G5 or inhibitory peptides. Finally, we describe the effects of NEM and DTT on the interaction between the two molecules in ELISA assays. All our results are discussed in the light of the recently published crystal structure of the mdm2-p53 complex. A striking correspondence between our findings and the crystal structure is revealed.