The tumor-suppressor gene p53 is altered by missense mutation in numerous human malignancies. However, the biochemical properties of p53 and the effect of mutation on these properties are unclear. A human DNA sequence was identified that binds specifically to wild-type human p53 protein in vitro. As few as 33 base pairs were sufficient to confer specific binding. Certain guanines within this 33-base pair region were critical, as methylation of these guanines or their substitution with thymine-abrogated binding. Human p53 proteins containing either of two missense mutations commonly found in human tumors were unable to bind significantly to this sequence. These data suggest that a function of p53 may be mediated by its ability to bind to specific DNA sequences in the human genome, and that this activity is altered by mutations that occur in human tumors.