Tumor cells infected with a retrovirus vector (VIK) containing the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK) gene can be selectively killed by treatment with nucleoside analogues, such as ganciclovir. To mediate delivery of the HSV-TK gene to "recipient" tumor cells, "donor" C6 rat glioma cells infected with the VIK vector (C6VIK) were superinfected with wild type Moloney murine leukemia virus (WT Mo-MLV). These modified donor cells (C6VIKWT) produced both wild type retrovirus and the VIK vector. In culture, C6VIKWT cells were 300-fold more sensitive to the toxicity of ganciclovir than were C6VIK cells, suggesting that the presence of wild type retrovirus contributed to the toxicity. Co-culture of C6VIKWT cells with the C6 subline, C6BAG, sensitized the latter to ganciclovir treatment. Nude mice inoculated subcutaneously with a mixture of C6VIKWT and C6BAG cells showed regression of subsequent tumors when treated with ganciclovir. The observations show that tumor cells modified in culture by infection with a retrovirus bearing the HSV-TK gene and wild type retrovirus are not only sensitive to ganciclovir, but can transfer this sensitivity to neighboring "naive" tumor cells in culture and in vivo.