Loss of function of the tumour suppressor gene p53 is a key event in most human cancers. Although usually occurring through mutation, in some tumour types this appears to be achieved via an indirect mechanism involving inappropriate expression of a functional inhibitor, mdm2, which binds to the transactivation domain of p53. This interaction offers an ideal potential target for novel cancer therapies. However, therapeutic specificity may depend on the extent to which this p53-inhibitory action of mdm2 is also required by normal cells. Transgenic data have already established that mdm2 is needed to prevent embryonic lethality, but the situation in adult cells is still unclear. Here we show that micro-injection of normal human fibroblasts with an antibody directed against the p53-binding domain of mdm2 induces expression of p53-responsive genes, and furthermore results in p53-dependent growth arrest. We conclude that normal cell proliferation can be dependent on negative regulation of p53 by mdm2, a finding which raises an important note of caution for mdm2-directed cancer therapies.