This paper evaluates the effects of adenoviral vector-mediated glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) gene delivery on survival of primary human corneal epithelial cells (PHCEC) established from limbal explants in vitro and the overexpression of GDNF gene in bioengineered human corneal constructs on substrate of corneal stromal discs followed by autograft ex vivo. In vitro, the overexpression of GDNF in the supernatant of PHCEC peaked at day 4, but lasted for at least 4 weeks after the transduction mediated by adenoviral vector. At day 10, the cell viability was 2-fold greater (P < 0.001), the number of terminal deoxynucleotidyl transferase-mediated dUTP-digoxigenin nick end labeling (TUNEL)-positive cells was more than 50% lower (P < 0.01) in the GDNF transduction group than the non-transduction group. 5 weeks after the transduction, the living cell population was greater in the GDNF transduction group than the non-transduction group (P < 0.01). In the ex vivo autograft of the bioengineered human corneal constructs, outgrowth of enhanced green fluorescent protein (eGFP) positive cells on the recipient corneoscleral tissue was observed. Overexpression of GDNF in the supernatant peaked at day 2, but was observed for at least 4 weeks after transplantation. At day 5, immunofluorescent staining showed expression of GDNF by all layers of epithelial cells on the graft. Our findings revealed that GDNF is a survival growth factor for cultured human corneal epithelium. The use of bioengineered human corneal constructs containing GDNF-transduced epithelial cells represents a novel method for delivering of this gene to promote survival of transplanted corneal epithelium to treat various corneal surface diseases.