A significant limitation of adenoviral vectors is their associated immunogenicity. Since we, and others, have shown that the immunogenicity of cells can be increased by the induction of heat shock proteins (hsp), and because infection with several viruses induces hsp, we investigated whether the immunogenicity of adenoviral gene transfer might be mediated through induction of hsp expression. Neither plasmid DNA nor a recombinant retroviral vector induced hsp expression in transduced B16 melanoma cells. However, hsp70 was upregulated after infection with two of six adenoviral vectors; this induction of hsp70 did not correlate with the adenoviral transgene or with the viral backbone (Ad2 or Ad5). In previous assays, no replication-competent adenovirus (RCA) had been detected in any of these viruses. However, using sensitive assays for RCA, induction of hsp70 was found to correlate with the transfer of E1A and low levels of RCA. Moreover, target cells expressing hsp70 at levels similar to those induced by RCA infection protected syngeneic mice against rechallenge with parental cells, demonstrating that cells induced to express hsp70 by inadvertant transfer of RCA will become immunogenic. These results reveal a novel mechanism contributing to the immunogenicity of adenoviral vectors. If careful screening for RCA is not used when using laboratory-prepared viral stocks, the validity of the resulting experimental data might be significantly affected, especially when the immune stimulatory effects of the transgene are being studied.