BACKGROUND: Methionine, an essential amino acid, is important for normal growth and development, as it is required for both protein and polyamine synthesis as well as in methylation reactions. It has been reported that high concentrations of methionine inhibit cellular growth and gene expression in the human breast tumor-derived MCF-7 cells. These effects are thought to be mediated by the modulation of p53. However, the generalizability of this observation and the precise role of p53 in methionine-induced growth suppression needs to be determined. METHODS: To determine if the inhibition of cell growth by methionine applies to other cell lines and to characterize further the role of p53 in methionine-induced growth suppression, we have assessed the effects of methionine on cellular growth and proliferation and p53 expression in cells expressing native p53, eg, breast cancer MCF-7 cells and prostate cancer LNCaP cells, and also in cells expressing a mutated (point) form of p53, eg, prostate cancer DU-145 cells. These cell lines were treated with varying concentrations of L-methionine. The effects of L-methionine on cell growth were assayed by using cell viability assays and immunostaining for Ki-67, a cell proliferation marker. The effects of methionine on p53 expression were assessed by using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), immunohistochemistry, and Western blot analysis. The role of p53 in L-methionine-mediated growth suppression was evaluated using short-interference RNA for p53 (siRNA-p53), immunoprecipitation, and direct DNA sequencing. RESULTS: We demonstrated that methionine at a concentration of 1 to 5 mg/mL inhibited the growth of both MCF-7 and LNCaP cells. In association with the inhibition of growth, methionine also inhibited native p53 expression at the mRNA and protein levels, respectively. Furthermore, transfection with siRNA-p53, to knock down p53 expression, increased cell growth and proliferation of the LNCaP cells even when they were exposed to methionine. In contrast, the same treatment did not diminish growth or proliferation of the DU-145 cells. Also, the expression of mutated p53 at the mRNA or protein levels was not altered. CONCLUSION: Our results extend a prior observation to other cell lines and demonstrate that high concentrations of methionine suppress the expression of native but not mutated p53. These inhibitory effects on cellular growth are, in part, due to inhibition of cellular proliferation probably via a p53-dependent pathway.