A major obstacle in cancer gene therapy is the limited efficiency of in vivo gene transfer by replication-defective retrovirus vectors in current use. One strategy for circumventing this difficulty would be to use vectors capable of replication within tumor tissues. We have developed a replication-competent retrovirus (RCR) vector derived from murine leukemia virus (MuLV). This vector utilizes a unique design strategy in which an internal ribosome entry site-transgene cassette is positioned between the env gene and the 3' long terminal repeat (LTR). The ability of this vector to replicate and transmit a transgene was examined in culture and in a solid tumor model in vivo. The RCR vector exhibited replication kinetics similar to those of wildtype MuLV and mediated efficient delivery of the transgene throughout an entire population of cells in culture after an initial inoculation with 1 plaque-forming unit (PFU) of vector per 2000 cells. After injection of 6 x 10(3) PFU of vector into established subcutaneous tumors, highly efficient spread of the transgene was observed over a period of 7 weeks, in some cases resulting in spread of the transgene throughout the entire tumor. MuLV-based RCR vectors show significant advantages over standard replication-defective vectors in efficiency of gene delivery both in culture and in vivo. This represents the first example of the use of an RCR vector in an adult mammalian host, and their first application to transduction of solid tumors.