The roles and actions of the tumor suppressor protein p53 have been extensively studied with regard to nuclear events, including transcription and DNA damage repair. However, the direct roles of p53 in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) replication and function are less well understood. Studies herein used a mitochondrial-targeted p53 (MTS-p53) to determine its effects on both mtDNA abundance and mitochondrial function. MTS-p53 decreased cellular proliferation and mtDNA abundance in HepG2 cells transfected with wild-type (WT) human p53. When MTS-p53 cells were treated with the nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI), 2′,3′-dideoxycytidine or 2′,3′- dideoxyinosine, mtDNA depletion that resembled untransfected controls was observed in both instances. p53-Overexpressing cells showed reduced mitochondrial function by oximetry, including a reduction in maximal respiratory capacity and reserve capacity. A truncated p53 (MTS-p53-290) was generated for localization exclusively to the mitochondria. MTS-p53-290 cells proliferated at control levels but displayed decreased mtDNA abundance and mitochondrial function with NRTI treatment. The MTS-p53-290 cells demonstrated that only the nuclear fraction of p53 controlled cellular proliferation, which was supported by the MTS-p53 results. Data herein indicate that overexpression of p53 in the mitochondria reduces mtDNA abundance and increases the sensitivity of mammalian cells to NRTI exposure by reducing mitochondrial function.