p53 activates transcription of genes with a p53 response element, and it can repress genes lacking the element. Here we demonstrate that wild-type but not mutant p53 inhibits transcription in a HeLa nuclear extract from minimal promoters. Wild-type but not mutant p53 binds to human TATA-binding protein (TBP). p53 does not bind to yeast TBP, and it cannot inhibit transcription in a HeLa extract where yeast TBP substitutes for human TBP. These results suggest a model in which p53 binds to TBP and interferes with transcriptional initiation.