The tumor suppressor gene p53 plays an important role in guarding genomic integrity. When induced in response to environmental results, the gene product of p53 functions as a transcription factor to transactivate genes involved in arresting the cell cycle and as a facilitator of DNA repair. In contrast, the status of p53 in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells, commonly used as a model system for various studies including those involving the cell cycle and transformation, remains an enigma. In this study, the function and sequence of p53 in CHO.K1 cells were investigated. The level of p53 proteins was elevated on ultraviolet (UV) irradiation of the cells, and the proteins formed specific complexes as probed with DNA containing p53- binding sequences. Its activities toward responsive promoters were inducible by UV in a dose-dependent manner. Although p53 in CHO.K1 contained a single missense mutation at codon 211, the mutation apparently had no effect on the functional properties of the protein. The CHO.K1 cells on X-ray irradiation failed to arrest at G1 phase even when the cells were transfected with a wildtype human p53 gene, indicating that the failure probably was not caused by dysfunction of its p53, but by some other mechanism. This result is consistent with the finding that p21(Waf1/Cip1) is undetectable in UV- treated CHO.K1 cells, whereas Gadd45 is induced by UV light in the cells.