The p53 tumour suppressor protein is a potent transcription factor which plays a central role in the defence of cells against DNA damage and the propagation of malignant clones. We have previously shown that phosphorylation of serine 386 in mouse p53 by the growth- associated protein kinase, casein kinase II (CKII), plays an important role in the ability of p53 to block the proliferation of drug-resistant colonies. In this paper we show that blocking phosphorylation of serine 386 through an alanine substitution, or placing a constitutive negative charge at this position in the form of aspartate, had no significant influence on p53-dependent transcriptional activation of a promoter containing 13 copies of a p53 consensus binding sequence, or of the p21WAF1 promoter which is a natural target for p53. In contrast, the alanine mutant showed a weak reduction in the ability of p53 to repress expression from the c-fos promoter, which is a target for p53-dependent repression in vivo. Strikingly, when the repression of the SV40 early promoter was examined, a reduction in the repression capacity of up to 5-fold was observed. Moreover, repression of the SV40 promoter could be partially restored by aspartic acid substitution at the phosphorylation site. These data indicate that phosphorylation at a specific C-terminal site can selectively regulate p53-dependent repression, but not transactivation.