Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that primarily affects joints. During the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis, the synovial lining becomes dramatically thickened and hyperplastic. This highly aggressive tissue invades and destroys articular cartilage and bone. Several lines of evidence suggest that the proliferation of the synovial tissue may be due to disruption in the control of the cell cycle or apoptotic pathways. In particular, mutations in the tumor suppressor protein p53 have been found in synovial tissue from RA joints. We have examined the effects of overexpression of p53 by adenoviral infection in synovial cells in culture and in synovial tissue in vivo in a rabbit model of arthritis. Here we demonstrate that p53 overexpression resulted in significant apoptosis in human and rabbit synovial cells in culture. Furthermore, intraarticular injection of Ad-p53 resulted in extensive and rapid induction of synovial apoptosis in the rabbit knee without affecting cartilage metabolism. Interestingly, a significant reduction in the leukocytic infiltrate was observed within 24 h postinfection of Ad.p53. These results suggest that intraarticular gene transfer of p53 is able to induce synovial apoptosis as well as reduce inflammation and thus may be useful clinically for the treatment of RA.