The p53 tumour suppressor protein is tightly regulated by protein-protein association, protein turnover and a variety of post-translational modifications. Multisite phosphorylation plays a major role in activating and in finely tuning p53 function. The proline rich domain of murine p53 is a substrate for phosphorylation, in vitro and in cultured cells, by the p42ERK2 and p44ERK1 mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinases. However, to date there have been no reports of attempts to determine whether p53 from any other species is a substrate for MAP kinase. In this paper we confirm that murine p53 is targeted by recombinant MAP kinase and by MAP kinases in extracts of both murine and human cells. In contrast, human p53 is not a substrate for recombinant MAP kinase nor are there any detectable levels of protein kinase activity in stimulated human cell extracts which phosphorylate the proline rich domain of human p53 in vitro. Finally, although stimulation of murine fibroblasts with o-tetradecanolylphorbol 13-acetate (TPA), an indirect activator of the MAP kinase pathway, leads to site-specific phosphorylation of murine p53, similar treatment of human fibroblasts and epithelial cells showed no significant changes in the phosphorylation pattern. These data are consistent with accumulating evidence that significant species-dependent differences exist in the post-translational modification of p53.