There is a need to enhance the efficacy of genetic prodrug activation therapy using herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (tk) and ganciclovir (GCV) following disappointing results in early clinical trials. tk/GCV has been shown to lead to the activation of caspase-3, a potent executor of apoptosis. We demonstrate that co-expression of pro-caspase-3 with tk/GCV leads to enhanced cell death in ovarian carcinoma cells in vitro. Following transfection with recombinant adenoviral vectors encoding tk, GCV treatment leads to greater cell death in pro-caspase-3-expressing clones of SKOV3 and IGROV1 than control cells, as well as more rapid activation of caspase-3 and more rapid cleavage of PARP. Flow cytometry suggests that there is a greater degree of S-phase block in the pro-caspase-3-expressing clones than in control cells following treatment with tk/GCV. None of these effects is seen following transfection with a control adenovirus that does not encode tk. The increased cell death, early caspase-3 activation and PARP cleavage, and flow cytometric changes seen in pro-caspase-3-expressing cells can be partially inhibited by treatment with benzyloxycarbonyl-val-ala-asp fluoromethylketone, a synthetic caspase inhibitor. Our data suggest that co-expression of pro-caspase-3 may lead to a significant enhancement of the efficacy of tk/GCV therapy.