In order to exploit differences in gene expression between normal and malignant cells for genetic prodrug-activation therapy, we have generated recombinant retroviruses containing the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase coding region cloned downstream of sequences derived from the 5'-flanking regions of the MUC1 and ERBB2 genes. Transduction with retroviruses containing MUC1 promoters resulted in an increase in GCV sensitivity in MUC1 positive cells. A further increase in GCV sensitivity was achieved when MUC1-positive cells were transduced with retroviruses containing chimeric-MUC1/ERBB2 promoters. No significant sensitization to GCV was observed when MUC1-negative cells were transduced with these recombinant retroviruses. These results suggest that one may be able to develop a tumour-selective therapy by utilizing the transcriptional regulatory regions of the MUC1 and ERBB2 genes to drive the expression of suicide genes.