We investigated the role of p53 and of the Bcl-2 family proteins in the apoptotic response of a panel of testicular tumour cell lines (NT2, NCCIT, S2 and 2102 EP). The p53 gene status and the capacity of the p53 protein to transactivate the p21/WAF/CIP gene were determined, and we examined the correlation between p53 status and the susceptibility to cisplatin-induced apoptosis. In contrast to wild-type p53-containing NT2 and 2102 EP cells, NCCIT (mutant p53) and S2 (no p53 protein) cells were shown to be p53-transactivation defective. However, NCCIT and S2 cells with non-functional p53 were readily triggered into apoptosis by cisplatin, whereas p53-transactivation competent 2102 EP cells failed to undergo cisplatin-induced apoptosis. The defective apoptotic pathway in 2102 EP cells was reflected by a 4-fold decreased sensitivity to cisplatin in the MTT assay. We further demonstrated that the p53-independent differential cisplatin sensitivity among the testicular germ cell tumour (TGCT) cell lines was not due to differences in cellular cisplatin accumulation or DNA platination. The pattern of endogenous expression levels of Bax, Bcl-2, Bcl-x and Bak, which was not modulated by cisplatin treatment, demonstrated that these Bcl-2 family proteins are not involved in drug-induced apoptosis in the TGCT cell lines. Our results suggest a lack of correlation between cisplatin-induced apoptosis, p53 status and expression of Bcl-2 family proteins in our panel of TGCT cell lines. We conclude that the cisplatin-induced apoptotic pathway in TGCT cell lines might be p53-independent and is probably not associated with differences in the Bcl-2/Bax rheostat.