Confinement of transgene expression to target cells is highly desirable in gene therapy. Current strategies of transcriptional targeting to tumors usually rely on tissue-specific promoters to control gene expression. However, such promoters generally have much lower activity than the constitutive viral promoters. We have explored an alternative approach, using a strict-late viral promoter (UL38p) in the context of an oncolytic herpes simplex virus (HSV) for tumor-selective gene expression. As with many DNA viruses, the genomic transcription of HSV is a tightly regulated molecular cascade in which early and late phases of gene expression are separated by viral DNA replication. In particular, some of the late transcripts are categorized as strict-late, whose expression depends rigorously on the initiation of viral DNA replication. Our in vitro and in vivo characterization showed that in normal nondividing cells, where the oncolytic HSV has limited ability to replicate, the UL38p has minimal activity. However, in tumor or cycling cells where the virus can fully replicate, transgene expression from UL38p was almost as high as from the cytomegalovirus immediate-early promoter. These results suggest that delivery of therapeutic genes driven by UL38p through an oncolytic HSV may be an effective approach to gene therapy for malignant diseases.