Infection of normal human diploid fibroblasts (HF) with the DNA tumor virus simian virus 40 (SV) leads to an extension of lifespan and concomitant increase in the levels of the viral large tumor antigen (T antigen) and the cellular protein p53. The intracellular localization of T antigen and p53 was mostly nuclear in both SVpre-crisis and SVpost-crisis cells, however certain population doubling (PD) of the SVpre-crisis cells exhibited some cytoplasmic staining. The DNA content of SVpre-crisis cells shifted to tetraploidy and the SVpost-crisis cells were near-tetraploid. Quantitation of T antigen and p53 in single cells by flow cytometry demonstrated that for all antibodies tested the levels of T antigen were higher in the SVpre-crisis HF than in the SVpost-crisis. The quantity of p53 increased with increasing age of SVpre-crisis HF, and the levels of p53 were higher in the SVpost-crisis HF populations. Immunoprecipitation of p53, T antigen and complexes demonstrated that all p53 was bound to T antigen in SVpre-crisis HF and SVpost-crisis HF. The SVpre-crisis HF cells showed that 33% of all T antigen was bound to p53, while 67% was free, and the SVpost-crisis HF exhibited 50% free T antigen and 50% bound to p53. The half-life of p53 was similar in all SVpre-crisis HF; however, the half-life was 2-3 times greater in SVpost-crisis HF than in SVpre-crisis HF. These results suggest that the interaction of DNA (ploidy), T antigen, p53 and complexes may be involved in formation of a stable SV40-transformed human cell line.