Prodrug activating transcription unit gene therapy is one of several promising approaches to cancer gene therapy. Combining that approach with conditionally replication-competent viral vectors that are truly tumor specific has been an important objective of recent work. In this study, we report the construction of a new conditionally replication-competent bicistronic adenoviral vector in which the cytosine deaminase (CD) gene and the E1a gene are driven by the L-plastin tumor-specific promoter (AdLpCDIRESE1a). A similar vector driven by the CMV promoter has also been constructed (AdCMVCDIRESE1a) as a control. We have carried out in vitro cytotoxicity in carcinomas of the breast, ovary and colon, and in vivo efficacy studies with these vectors in an animal model of colon cancer. While the addition of the AdLpCDIRESE1a vector to established cancer cell lines showed significant cytotoxicity in tumor cells derived from carcinomas of the breast (MCF-7), colon (HTB-38) and ovary (Ovcar 5), no significant toxicity was seen in explant cultures of normal human mammary epithelial cells (HMEC) exposed to this vector. The addition of 5-fluorocytosine (5FC) significantly increased the cytotoxicity in an additive fashion of both the AdLpCDIRESE1a and AdCMVCDIRESE1a vectors as well as that of the AdLpCD replication incompetent vector to established tumor cell lines. However, no significant cytotoxicity was observed with the addition of 5FC to explant cultures of normal human mammary epithelial cells that had been exposed to the L-plastin-driven vectors. Studies with mixtures of infected and uninfected tumor cell lines showed that the established cancer cell lines infected with the AdLpCDIRESE1a vector generated significant toxicity to surrounding uninfected cells (the "bystander effect") even at a ratio of 0.25 of infected cells to infected + uninfected cells in the presence of 5FC. The injection of the AdLpCDIRESE1a vector into subcutaneous deposits of human tumor nodules in the nude mice was potentiated by administering 5-FC by intraperitoneal injection. This treatment resulted in a decreased tumor size and a decreased tumor cell growth rate. The mice treated with a combination of the AdLpCDIRESE1a vector intratumoral injection and intraperitoneal 5FC injections lived much longer than the other experimental groups exposed to the viral vector alone or to the combination of the intratumoral AdLpCD replication incompetent vector injections plus intraperitoneal 5-FC injections. These encouraging results with our newly constructed AdLpCDIRESE1a vector suggest a need for further study of its utility in a preclinical model of intracavitary therapy of pleural or peritoneal carcinomatosis.