Suppression of wild-type p53 expression has been shown to enhance the radiation resistance of human diploid fibroblasts, but results concerning the role of p53 expression in the sensitivity of human tumour cells have been conflicting. In order to address this question, we transfected four human tumour cell lines with the human papilloma virus 16 E6 gene and compared the radiosensitivity of subclones expressing E6 with that of subclones transfected with the neo gene alone. E6 binds to wild-type p53 promoting its degradation and abrogating its function. Two of these cell lines, one derived from a squamous cell carcinoma and the other an osteogenic sarcoma, expressed wild-type p53. The other two cell lines were of similar origins and histologies but expressed mutant or no p53 (null). Insertion of E6 into the cell was accomplished by two techniques: (1) to-transfection of plasmid vectors containing neo and E6; (2) infection with a retroviral vector containing neo and E6. Multiple transfected subclones were examined for each cell line. Transfection with E6 and abrogation of p53 function had no significant influence on the radiosensitivity of any of the cell lines tested. In particular, there was no evidence;hat loss of wild-type p53 function increased the resistance of these human tumour cell lines to ionizing radiation.