Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) of the salivary glands is a highly infiltrative malignant tumour with a tendency for lung metastasis. Gene therapy could be a potentially effective therapy for ACC and its metastasis. The aims of the study were: To transduce interleukin-2 (IL-2) gene into an ACC cell line with predisposition for lung metastasis (ACC-M); to compare the bioactivity of the gene-transduced cells and the parent cell line in vitro and in vivo. The IL-2 gene was transduced via a bicistronic retroviral vector into the ACC-M cells. The growth rate and DNA cell cycles of the parent ACC-M, the control viral vector AmGCEN, and the gene transduced AmIL-2 cell cultures were compared quantitatively and by flow cytometry, respectively. The tumourigenic ability of the three cell lines was verified by inoculation in athymic nude mice. The tumours developed were extracted and compared quantitatively and histologically. There was no difference in the growth rate and the DNA count between the ACC-M, AmGCEN, and AmIL-2 cell cultures. In the animal experiment, both the ACC-M and AmGCEN cells stimulated lung metastasis in all the mice, whereas there was no tumour found in the 1 x 10(6) AmIL-2 cells inoculation. On 3 x 10(6) AmIL-2 cells stimulation, three out of six mice developed tumours but the mass and volume of the tumours were smaller than the other two groups. Under light microscopy, the ACC-M tumours were mainly poorly differentiated with minimal cellular matrix, whereas the AmIL-2 tumours were well differentiated with ample matrix. The transduction of IL-2 gene can reduce the tumourigenicity of ACC-M cells and induces tumour cell differentiation in mice. The IL-2 gene can be a potential effective gene for the treatment of adenoid cystic carcinoma of salivary glands and its lung metastasis.