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Elevated levels of the p53 cellular tumor antigen have been previously observed in proliferating and transformed mammalian cells. We found that nontransformed mouse cells treated with either UV light or a UV-mimetic chemical carcinogen exhibited a rapid increase in the amount of p53. This stimulation can be explained, at least in part, on the basis of a post-translational stabilization of p53 which is independent of replicative DNA synthesis, consistent with p53 not being an adventitious product of proliferating cells. The results presented here are interpreted in light of the general hypothesis that p53 is involved in the preparation of mammalian cells for DNA synthesis.