Poly-ADP-ribose polymerase (PARP) and p53 are both induced by DNA damage and each has been proposed to mediate the normal cellular response to damage. We find that embryo fibroblasts from PARP-null mice have a approximately twofold lower basal level of p53 and that the induction of p53 in response to DNA damage or nucleotide depletion is more than twofold less than in normal mouse cells. These factors combine to decrease the induced level of the p53 protein in PARP-deficient cells by 4-5-fold, compared to normal cells. However, there is virtually no decrease in the induction of p53 activity in PARP-deficient cells, as assayed with a p53-responsive promoter. Furthermore, cells lacking PARP arrest normally in G1 after DNA damage, in contrast to cells lacking p53, where this checkpoint is absent. Other p53-dependent properties, such as the mitotic spindle checkpoint and permissivity for gene amplification, are also normal in PARP-deficient cells. We conclude that the induced level of the p53 protein is governed by a combination of PARP-dependent and PARP-independent pathways and that the activation of p53 is largely PARP-independent. The results are consistent with a model in which the regulation of gene expression by p53 involves both increases in the amount of the protein and activation of p53 as a transcription factor.