The adenoviral early region 1A (E1A) protein mediates sensitization to different stimulus-induced apoptosis, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, UV and gamma irradiation, and different categories of anticancer drugs. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying E1A-mediated sensitization to apoptosis are still not completely defined. Here, we show that E1A-mediated sensitization to apoptosis by the inactivation of a key survival factor Akt and the activation of a pro-apoptotic factor p38. Also, inactivation of Akt by either a specific inhibitor or a genetic knockout of Akt1 results in p38 activation, possibly through the release of the activity of p38 upstream kinases, including ASK1 and MEKK3. In addition, we showed that p38 phosphorylation is downregulated and Akt phosphorylation is upregulated in multiple human tumor tissues, and this correlates with tumor stage in human breast cancer. A deletion mutation of a conserved domain of E1A, which is required for E1A-induced downregulation of Akt activity, disrupts E1A-mediated upregulation of p38 activity and also eliminates E1A-mediated chemosensitization. Thus, activation of p38 and inactivation of Akt may have general implications for tumor suppression and sensitization to apoptosis.