Replication-competent adenoviruses (Ads) were used for oncolytic virotherapy soon after they were discovered. Recently mutated and genetically engineered Ads have been shown to selectively lyse tumor cells. We have split the human Ad type 5 genome into two defective viruses that complement each other only in certain tumor cells. The genome of one of these vectors, GT5610, contains only the minimal viral elements required in cis for replication and packaging and the E1 viral genes with E1A under the control of the human alpha-fetoprotein promoter. This "controlled" vector has a capacity for 30 kilobases of foreign DNA. The supplemental vector, AdHbeta, contains all adenoviral genes except for E1. Both vectors were designed to carry heterologous reporter genes whose expression could be detected throughout the tumor. Coinfection of hepatocarcinoma cells that have the capacity to transcribe genes under the control of the alpha-fetoprotein promoter leads to cell lysis and copropagation. The oncolytic spread of these complementary vectors in vivo was demonstrated by the intratumoral injection of human hepatocarcinomas xenografted in severe combined immunodeficient (SCID) mice. This system presents safety and gene capacity features that could yield a therapeutic advantage over oncolysis by a single virus.