Reactivation of the p53 tumor-suppressor protein by small molecules like Nutlin-3 and RITA (reactivation of p53 and induction of tumor cell apoptosis) is a promising strategy for cancer therapy. The molecular mechanisms involved in the responses to RITA remain enigmatic. Several groups reported the induction of a p53-dependent DNA damage response. Furthermore, the existence of a p53-dependent S-phase checkpoint has been suggested, involving the checkpoint kinase Chk1. We have recently shown synergistic induction of apoptosis by RITA in combination with Nutlin-3, and we observed concomitant Chk2 phosphorylation. Therefore, we investigated whether Chk2 contributes to the cellular responses to RITA. Strikingly, the induction of apoptosis seemed entirely Chk2 dependent. Transcriptional activity of p53 in response to RITA required the presence of Chk2. A partial rescue of apoptosis observed in Noxa knockdown cells emphasized the relevance of p53 transcriptional activity for RITA-induced apoptosis. In addition, we observed an early p53-and Chk2-dependent block of DNA replication upon RITA treatment. Replicating cells seemed more prone to entering RITA-induced apoptosis. Furthermore, the RITA-induced DNA damage response, which was not a secondary effect of apoptosis induction, was strongly attenuated in cells lacking p53 or Chk2. In conclusion, we identified Chk2 as an essential mediator of the cellular responses to RITA. © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.