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A p53 C-terminal peptide (aa 361–382, p53p), fused at its C-terminus to the minimal carrier peptide ofantennapedia(17 aa, Ant; p53p-Ant), induced rapid apoptosis in human cancer cells,viaactivation of the Fas pathway. We examined p53p-Ant mechanism of action, toxicity in various human normal, non-malignant, pre-malignant and malignant cancer cells and investigated its biophysical characteristics. p53p-Ant selectively induced cell death in only pre-malignant or malignant cells in a p53-dependent manner and was not toxic to normal and non-malignant cells. p53p-Ant was more toxic to the mutant p53 than wild-type p53 phenotype in H1299 lung cancer cells stably expressing human temperature-sensitive p53 mutant 143Ala. Surface plasmon resonance (BIACORE) analysis demonstrated that this peptide had higher binding affinity to mutant p53 as compared to wild-type p53. p53p-Ant induced-cell death had the classical morphological characteristics of apoptosis and had no features of necrosis. The mechanism of cell death by p53p-Ant was through the FADD/caspase-8-dependent pathway without the involvement of the TRAIL pathway, Bcl-2 family and cell cycle changes. Blocking Fas with antibody did not alter the peptide's effect, suggesting that Fas itself did not interact with the peptide. Transfection with a dominant-negative FADD with a deleted N-terminus inhibited p53p-Ant-induced apoptosis. Its mechanism of action is related to the FADD-induced pathway without restoration of other p53 functions. p53p-Ant is a novel anticancer agent with unique selectivity for human cancer cells and could be useful as a prototype for the development of new anti-cancer agents. © 2004 Wiley-Liss, Inc.