Although p53 mutations in tumors typically result in loss of transactivation of p53 target genes some mutants display gain-of-function activity. The latter has important implications for the design of rational cancer therapy. We previously described a germ-line p53 mutation (deletion of codon 236, Y236delta) associated with a familial brain tumor syndrome. To determine whether this tissue-specific tumor predisposition reflects a gain-of-function activity of Y236delta or an effect of genetic background we have developed a mouse brain tumor model. Primary neuroectodermal cells deficient for p53 (+/- or -/-) and transduced with Y236delta using a retroviral vector were transplanted into the brain of adult wild-type mice. This neurografting paradigm circumvents the problem of early lethal tumors at extracerebral sites associated with germ-line p53 deficiency. Brain tumors arising in this mouse model were highly invasive, reflecting an important feature of the human disease. Tumors arose from p53+/- cells only when transduced with Y236delta. In keeping with in vitro data showing that Y236delta has dominant-negative activity, these tumors retained the endogenous wild-type p53 allele but accumulated high levels of Y236delta. However, the presence of Y236delta in transplanted p53-/- cells had no effect on the tumor frequency, 15% versus 27% without the mutant. In conclusion, Y236delta is transdominant but exerts no gain-of-function activity mediating a more penetrant tumor phenotype.