In spite of aggressive surgery, irradiation and/or chemotherapy, treatment of malignant gliomas remains a major challenge in adults and children due to high treatment failure. We have demonstrated significant cell lysis and antitumour activity of the E1B-55 kDa-gene-deleted adenovirus ONYX-015 (dl1520, CI-1042; ONYX Pharmaceuticals) in subcutaneous human malignant glioma xenografts deriving from primary tumours. Here, we show the combined efficacy of this oncolytic therapy with radiation therapy. Total body irradiation (5 Gy) of athymic nude mice prior to intratumoral injections of ONYX-015 1 x 10(8) PFU daily for 5 consecutive days yielded additive tumour growth delays in the p53 mutant xenograft IGRG88. Radiation therapy was potentiated in the p53 functional tumour IGRG121 with a 'subtherapeutic' dose of 1 x 10(7) PFU daily for 5 consecutive days, inducing significant tumour growth delay, 90% tumour regression and 50% tumour-free survivors 4 months after treatment. These potentiating effects were not due to increased adenoviral infectivity or replication. Furthermore, cell lysis and induction of apoptosis, the major mechanisms for adenoviral antitumour activity, did not play a major role in the combined treatment strategy. Interestingly, the oncolytic adenovirus seemed to accelerate radiation-induced tumour fibrosis. Potentiating antitumour activity suggests the development of this combined treatment for these highly malignant tumours.