Infection of rat RT2 glioma cells in vitro with an adenovirus (ADV-TK) expressing herpes simplex virus (HSV) thymidine kinase (TK) and subsequent exposure to 5-bromo-2'-deoxycytidine (BrdC), which is specifically incorporated into ADV-TK-infected cell DNA as 5-bromo-2'-deoxyuridine (BrdU), results in significant radiosensitization (sensitizer enhancement ratio: 1.4-2.3) compared with Ad beta gal-infected cells. Cell killing correlated well with increased BrdU DNA incorporation and with apoptosis. Whereas radiation (4 Gy) alone was relatively ineffective in inducing apoptosis, treatment with HSV-TK/BrdC resulted in BrdC dose- (10-100 microM) and time-dependent (24-48 hours) increases, and the combination of the two treatments produced a synergistic response (1.5- to 2-fold). To investigate the effects of the ADV-TK/BrdC treatment in vivo, RT2 cells were grown as soft tissue tumors in Fischer 344 rats and conditions for virus infusion were optimized by altering the volume and rate of infusion using a rate-controlled positive pressure device. We found that relatively large volumes (100-150 microL) of virus delivered at rates of < or = 1 microL/minute were optimal and gave uniform and reproducible results. Using these optimal infusion conditions, we were able to achieve 40% adenovirus infection in the tumor. Infection of RT2 tumors with ADV-TK and continuous administration of BrdC from an osmotic pump resulted in significant (.001 < P < .009) tumor regression 6 days after radiation (30 Gy delivered as 2 x 5 Gy over 3 days) compared with controls. In situ staining of sectioned tumors with anti-BrdU antibody or by high-performance liquid chromatography analysis of extracted and hydrolyzed tumor DNA confirmed that we obtained efficient and specific incorporation of BrdU into tumor cells. These results suggest that adenovirus-mediated delivery of HSV-TK in combination with BrdC and radiation can potentially be an efficient combination modality for the treatment of gliomas.