The neurotoxicity of an adenoviral vector (Adv.RSVtk) carrying the gene for herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSVtk) was tested in the cotton rat, a semipermissive host. Adv.RSVtk was injected intracerebrally in cotton rats at a dose of 5.0 x 10(6) or 7.5 x 10(7) p.f.u. No signs of illness were observed. Histological inspection at 12 and 28 days after injection showed inflammation of the ependyma and choroid plexus and at the injection site. No demyelination, viral inclusions, cerebral edema, necrosis, cavities or vascular necrosis were seen in the brains. There was no significant difference between animals injected with 5.0 x 10(6) or 7.5 x 10(7) p.f.u., nor was there a difference between animals analyzed at 12 or 28 days after vector injection. This inflammation was similar in animals that had been preimmunized with wild-type virus and in animals that had been treated with ganciclovir. No histopathology, was observed in the lungs of the animals and no replication-competent virus was detected. These experiments indicate that Adv.RSVtk has limited neurotoxicity which would not prohibit its use in a limited phase I clinical trial in humans that have malignant tumors of the central nervous system.