Chromosome 17p has been shown to be an early and frequent target for loss of heterozygosity through mitotic recombination in astrocytomas. These losses are frequently accompanied by point mutations in the p53 gene of the remaining allele, resulting in loss of wild type p53 function. However, a fraction of astrocytomas retain constitutional heterozygosity and do not have p53 mutations; some of these lose wild type p53 activity through binding to the protein product of amplified mdnil genes. To test whether loss of wild type p53 biological function is a necessary step in astrocytoma progression we analyzed p53 expression and biological function in 13 glioma cell lines. All the cell lines expressed a 2.8-kilobase p53 transcript and showed various amounts of p53 protein by immunopre-cipitation, except for cell line LN-Z308 which had only a small truncated p53 mRNA and no protein expression. To test whether the p53 expressed in these cell lines was functionally wild type or mutant we transfected them with a plasmid construct harboring a chloramphenicol acetyltrans-ferase (CAT) reporter gene under the control of transcriptional elements that are induced by wild type but not mutant p53. Four lines were shown to retain wild type p53 function. Sequencing of the p53 gene in two of these cell lines confirmed the wild type genotype. These results show that inac-tivation of the p53 gene is not an obligatory step in glioblastoma genesis. This suggests either that two pathways (p53 inactivation dependent or independent) may lead to a tumor group classified histologically as glioblastoma or that in some cases pS3 mutations are bypassed due to the presence of mutations in downstream effector genes. © 1994, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.