Adenoviral vectors are considered to be good gene delivery vectors for cancer gene therapy due to their wide host tissue range and cell cycle-independent infectivity. However, the disadvantages include the lack of specificity for cancer cells and the high liver accumulation in vivo. The human CXCR4 gene is expressed at high levels in many types of cancers, but is repressed in the liver. We explored the CXCR4 promoter as a candidate to restrict adenoviral transgene expression to tumor cells with a low expression in host tissues. The luciferase activities in multiple cancer cell lines infected with recombinant adenovirus reAdGL3BCXCR4 or the control vector reAdGL3BCMV revealed that the CXCR4 promoter exhibited relatively high transcriptional activity in a breast cancer cell line, MDA-MB-361, and two ovarian cancer cell lines, OVCAR-3 and SKOV3. ip1, 65% (P=0.0087), 16.7% (P=0.1) and 20% (P=0.0079) compared to that of the CMV promoter, respectively, and low expression, 4.9 and 0.1%, respectively, in both normal cell lines HFBC and HMEC. In addition, CXCR4 had a low expression of luciferase (0.32%) compared to that of the CMV promoter in mouse liver in vivo. The data also revealed that the CXCR4 promoter was a stronger tumor-specific promoter (TSP) than the Cox-2M promoter in primary melanomas obtained from two patients. The CXCR4 promoter is shown to have a 'tumor-on' and 'liver-off' status in vitro and in vivo, and CXCR4 may prove to be a good candidate TSP for cancer gene therapy approaches for melanoma and breast cancers.