The tumour suppressor p53, encoded by TP53, is a key player in a wide network of signalling pathways. We investigated its role in the bioactivation of the environmental carcinogen 3-nitrobenzanthrone (3-NBA)found in diesel exhaust and its metabolites 3-aminobenzanthrone (3-ABA) and N-hydroxy-3-aminobenzanthrone (N-OH-3-ABA) in a panel of isogenic human colorectal HCT116 cells differing only with respect to their TP53 status [i.e. TP53(+/+), TP53(+/-), TP53(-/-), TP53(R248W/+) or TP53(R248W/-)]. As a measure of metabolic competence, DNA adduct formation was determined using 32P-postlabelling. Wild-type (WT) p53 did not affect the bioactivation of 3-NBA; no difference in DNA adduct formation was observed in TP53(+/+), TP53(+/-) and TP53(-/-) cells. Bioactivation of both metabolites 3-ABA and N-OH-3-ABA on the other hand was WT-TP53 dependent. Lower 3-ABA- and N-OH-3-ABA-DNA adduct levels were found in TP53(+/-) and TP53(-/-) cells compared to TP53(+/+) cells, and p53's impact was attributed to differences in cytochrome P450 (CYP) 1A1 expression for 3-ABA whereas for N-OH-3-ABA, an impact of this tumour suppressor on sulphotransferase (SULT) 1A1/3 expression was detected. Mutant R248W-p53 protein function was similar to or exceeded the ability of WT-p53 in activating 3-NBA and its metabolites, measured as DNA adducts. However, identification of the xenobiotic-metabolising enzyme(s) (XMEs), through which mutant-p53 regulates these responses, proved difficult to decipher. For example, although both mutant cell lines exhibited higher CYP1A1 induction after 3-NBA treatment compared to TP53(+/+) cells, 3-NBA-derived DNA adduct levels were only higher in TP53(R248W/-) cells but not in TP53(R248W/+) cells. Our results show that p53's influence on carcinogen activation depends on the agent studied and thereby on the XMEs that mediate the bioactivation of that particular compound. The phenomenon of p53 regulating CYP1A1 expression in human cells is consistent with other recent findings; however, this is the first study highlighting the impact of p53 on sulphotransferase-mediated (i.e. SULT1A1) carcinogen metabolism in human cells.