To obtain insights into the genetic mechanisms of ageing, we studied the frequency of the simultaneous presence of polymorphisms in phase I and phase II genes and of several p53 germline mutations in a group of 66 nonagenarians and centenarians in good health, selected from a larger sample of a multicentre Italian study in Northern Italy, and in a sample of 150 young healthy volunteers of the same ethnic group. We found a statistically significant difference in the frequency of 1the GSTT1 deletion and the p53 genotypes: the absence of any p53 polymorphisms and of GSTT1 deletion, and the simultaneous presence of the three p53 polymorphisms and of GSTT1 deletion, were much more frequent in young subjects than in centenarians (41.5% versus 26.9% and 8.8% versus 3.8%, respectively). One hypothesis to explain this difference is that subjects with both GSTT1 deletion and p53 polymorphisms may accumulate carcinogens and may have reduced DNA repair ability, and thus are more at risk for cancer. Another possible explanation is that both metabolic genes and p53 act on pathways related to cell ageing and death, and therefore certain composite genetic patterns could represent a generic mechanism of protection against ageing, not just against the development of chronic diseases. It is likely that longevity is related to a complex genetic trait as well as to certain environmental exposures.