Expression vectors encoding herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSVTK) have been extensively used in cell and gene therapy applications either as anticancer "suicide" or as "self-destruct" transgenes in adoptive immunotherapy applications. In both gene therapy applications, reliable detection of HSVTK transgene expression is required in genetically engineered cells. Direct fluorescent labeling of the HSVTK protein may be the remedy. We designed a retrovector encoding a chimeric GFP-HSVTK fusion protein that can serve as a bifunctional suicide and reporter transgene. The fusion gene was incorporated in a VSV G-pseudotyped retrovector (vGFPTKfus) and high-titer stable retroviral producer was generated ( approximately 3 x 10(6) retroparticles/ml). Tumor cell lines transduced at an MOI of 8 for 3 days led to >90% gene transfer efficiency. Southern blot analysis confirmed that unrearranged proviral genomes integrated in chromosomal DNA. Protein extract immunoblot with HSVTK antisera revealed the presence of a 70-kDa protein consistent with the predicted size of an HSVTK-GFP fusion protein. Fluorescence microscopy and FACS analysis revealed that GFPTKfus-mediated fluorescence was nuclear localized and was 30-fold greater than that observed in a bicistronic HSVTK-GFP vector. Growth of cell lines expressing vGFPTKfus was significantly suppressed in the presence of ganciclovir. The DA3 mouse mammary carcinoma cell line was transduced with vGFPTKfus and implanted in syngeneic BALB/c mice. Preestablished tumors completely regressed in seven of nine mice treated with ganciclovir. Normal human peripheral blood T lymphocytes were transduced with vGFPTKfus and nucleus-restricted green fluorescence was observed. Sorting of green fluorescent lymphocytes allowed for selection of engineered cells. In conclusion, we demonstrate the utility of vGFPTKfus as a suicide/reporter transgene in tumor cells in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, its potential use as an analytical and therapeutic tool targeting human T lymphocytes is shown.