The human polyomavirus JC virus is the etiologic agent of progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML). As the JC virus early promoter directs cell-specific expression of the viral replication factor large T antigen, transcriptional regulation constitutes a major mechanism of glial tropism in PML. It has been demonstrated that SV40 or JC virus large T antigen interacts with p53 protein and regulates many viral and cellular genes. In this study we found that p53 represses the JC virus early promoter in both glial and nonglial cells. To identify the cis-regulatory elements responsible for p53-mediated repression, deletional and site-directed mutational analyses were performed. Deletion of the enhancer region diminished p53-mediated transcriptional repression. However, point mutations of several transcription factor binding sites in the basal promoter region did not produce any significant changes. In support of this observation, when the enhancer was fused to a heterologous promoter, p53 reduced the promoter activity about three fold. These results indicate that the enhancer region is important for the repression of JC virus transcription by p53. Furthermore, coexpression of JC virus T antigen with a p53 protein abolished p53-mediated repression of the JC virus early promoter in non-glial cells, but not in glial cells. This finding suggests that T antigen interacts with p53 and regulates JC virus transcription in a cell-specific manner.