The p53 tumour-suppressor protein exerts antiproliferative effects, including growth arrest and apoptosis, in response to various types of stress. The activity of p53 is abrogated by mutations that occur frequently in tumours, as well as by several viral and cellular proteins. The Mdm2 oncoprotein is a potent inhibitor of p53. Mdm2 binds the transcriptional activation domain of p53 and blocks its ability to regulate target genes and to exert antiproliferative effects. On the other hand, p53 activates the expression of the mdm2 gene in an autoregulatory feedback loop. The interval between p53 activation and consequent Mdm2 accumulation defines a time window during which p53 exerts its effects. We now report that Mdm2 also promotes the rapid degradation of p53 under conditions in which p53 is otherwise stabilized. This effect of Mdm2 requires binding of p53; moreover, a small domain of p53, encompassing the Mdm2-binding site, confers Mdm2-dependent detstabilization upon heterologous proteins. Raised amounts of Mdm2 strongly repress mutant p53 accumulation in tumour-derived cells. During recovery from DNA damage, maximal Mdm2 induction coincides with rapid p53 loss. We propose that the Mdm2-promoted degradation of p53 provides a new mechanism to ensure effective termination of the p53 signal.