The herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene was transferred into C6 glioma cells by infection with a recombinant adenovirus. In vitro, a 10 microM ganciclovir concentration was able to kill 100% of the infected cells. For in vivo experiments, brain tumors were established by stereotactic injection of C6 glioma cells in the caudate nucleus of rats. Five days later, the recombinant adenovirus was inoculated into the tumors and the animals were treated by intraperitoneal injections of ganciclovir for 14 days. At the end of ganciclovir therapy, histological examination revealed a 28-fold decrease in tumor volumes in the treated animals, as compared with control animals. In long-term studies, the mean survival time of the treated animals were four-fold longer than that of control ones. Magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated an apparent complete tumor regression in 62% of the animals. However, late tumor recurrence was observed in the treated animals. Repeated inoculation of C6 glioma cells in the contralateral hemisphere of long-term surviving animals resulted in either tumor rejection or slowly growing tumors. These findings demonstrate the potential efficacy of adenovirus-mediated transfer of the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase gene and ganciclovir administration in the treatment of rat gliomas.