Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) represent a new tool for delivery of therapeutic agents to tumor cells. In this study, we have evaluated the anti-tumor activity of human MSCs stably transduced with a retroviral vector expressing the cytokine interleukin-12 (IL-12) in a mouse melanoma model. Application of MSC(IL-12) but not control MSCs strongly reduced the formation of lung metastases of B16F10 melanoma cells. The activity of the MSC(IL-12) cells was dependent on the presence of natural killer (NK) cells in this experimental setting. Further, MSC(IL-12) cells elicited a pronounced retardation of tumor growth and led to prolonged survival when injected into established subcutaneous melanoma in a therapeutic regimen. The therapeutic effect of the MSC(IL-12) was in part mediated by CD8(+) T cells, while NK cells and CD4(+) T cells appeared to play a minor role. The anti-tumor effect of MSC(IL-12) cells was of similar efficiency as observed for application of naked plasmid DNA encoding IL-12. The presented data demonstrate that these two different strategies can induce a similar therapeutic anti-tumor efficacy in the mouse melanoma tumor model.