p53 plays a critical role as a tumour-suppressor in restricting the proliferation of damaged cells, thus preventing formation of genetically altered cell clones. Its inactivation leads, in particular, to accumulation of polyploid and aneuploid cells. To elucidate the role of p53 in control of chromosome number, we analysed its participation in the cell cycle checkpoints controlling: (1) spindle assembly; and (2) G1-to-S transitions in cells with disintegrated microtubule cytoskeleton. Treatment with 8–10ng/ml of colcemid causing no visible destruction of the spindle leads to arrest of metaphase-to-anaphase transition in both p53-positive and p53-negative murine fibroblasts, as well as in p53-positive REF52 cells and their counterparts (where the p53 function was inactivated by transduction of dominant-negative p53 fragment). Furthermore, p53-positive and p53-defective rodent and human cells showed no significant difference in kinetics of metaphase-to-interphase transitions in cultures treated with high colcemid doses preventing spindle formation. These data argue against the hypothesis that p53 is a key component of the spindle-assembly checkpoint. However, p53 mediates activation of the G1 checkpoint in response to depolymerization of microtubules in interphase cells. Treatment of synchronized G0/G1 cells with colcemid causes arrest of G1-to-S transition. Inactivation of the p53 function by transduction of dominant-negative p53 fragment abolishes the G1 checkpoint that prevents entry into S phase of cells with disrupted microtubules. Transduction of kinase-defective dominant-negative c-raf mutant or application of PD 098059, a specific inhibitor of MEK1, also abrogates the G1 cell cycle arrest in cells with disintegrated microtubule system. It seems that Raf-MAP-kinase signalling pathways are responsible for p53 activation induced by depolymerization of microtubules.