We have treated Caki-2 human renal cell carcinoma in vivo using herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) gene therapy. Both stably transduced Caki-2 tumors, generated using retrovirus-mediated ex vivo HSV-tk gene transfer and direct intratumoral adenovirus-mediated HSV-tk gene transfer of wild type tumors, were tested. Similar treatments with LacZ containing retro- and adenoviruses were used as controls. The outcome was evaluated by imaging the tumors before and after the treatment with magnetic resonance imaging, and using histology, immunocytochemistry, and survival analysis. When implanted orthotopically into nude mouse kidneys, Caki-2 cells formed reproducible cystic papillary kidney carcinomas. In vivo magnetic resonance imaging provided an important tool for the evaluation of tumor growth. Transduction efficiency of wild-type tumors in vivo with adeno-LacZ was 22+/-14%. Significant tumor regression was achieved with direct intratumoral adeno-HSV-tk transduction followed by intraperitoneal ganciclovir (GCV) (P<.001). Also, the treatment of stably transduced Caki-2 tumors with intraperitoneal GCV resulted in a significant treatment response in the HSV-tk group as compared to the LacZ group (P<.009). Increased apoptosis and macrophage infiltrations, reduced proliferation, and degenerative changes were observed in the tumors treated with HSV-tk and GCV. Also, significant prolongation in survival was achieved with adeno-HSV-tk- and GCV-treated mice as compared to the controls. It is concluded that adeno-HSV-tk gene therapy may be useful for the treatment of renal cell carcinoma in vivo.