Hypoxia-inducible factors, key transcription factors for hypoxia-dependent gene expression, play important roles in angiogenesis and tumor growth. The VHL protein binds to the alpha subunit of (HIF-alpha) for its oxygen-dependent degradation. VHL mutations are found frequently in sporadic RCC. Disruption of VHL results in an abnormal accumulation of HIF-alpha, leading to the upregulation of downstream genes such as the vascular endothelial growth factor gene. We constructed a luciferase reporter vector driven by hypoxia-responsive elements (5HRE/luc) and a therapeutic vector expressing a herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene (5HRE/tk). In the transient transfection assay using VHL-deficient 786-O cells, constitutive luciferase expression was detected under both aerobic and hypoxic conditions. In contrast, 786-O cells transfected with a wild-type VHL showed hypoxia-inducible luciferase activity. In in vitro MTS assay, 50% of growth inhibition of 786-O cells stably transfected with 5HRE/tk was achieved with exposure to 0.2 microg/mL of GCV under both aerobic and hypoxic conditions. Xenografts of the stable clone in SCID mice exhibited a marked regression on daily injections of GCV (50 mg/kg) for 10 days. In conclusion, a hypoxia-responsive vector may have therapeutic potential for RCC with VHL mutations.