We describe a series of retroviral vectors containing two internal ribosome entry sites (IRES) for the co-transcription of three genes. Transcription of the single-transcript tricistronic mRNA is under the control of a Harvey murine sarcoma virus long terminal repeat. The 5'-most open reading frame is under either cap-dependent or cap-independent translational control, while the two downstream open reading frames are translated in a cap-independent fashion using the initiation codons of their respective IRES elements. Both IRES elements are taken from the encephalomyocarditis virus. To characterize these vectors, we used the human multidrug resistance gene (MDR1) in the 5' position, the gene for green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the middle position, and neo in the 3' position. The vectors were either transfected directly into NIH3T3 mouse fibroblasts or packaged into retrovirus and then transduced into NIH3T3 cells. Gene transfer was followed by selection with colchicine, which selects for expression of the MDR1 gene, or with G418, which selects for expression of the neo gene. Thus, we could determine the function of the tricistronic vectors under conditions of selection for either the 5'-most or the 3'-most gene. In DNA-mediated transfections, we were able to achieve expression of all three open reading frames under either selection condition. We obtained higher expression of all three genes when colchicine was used to select for MDR1 expression than when G418 was used to select for neo expression. Expression of the non-selected GFP gene (the middle cistron) was unstable, most likely due to loss of integrated GFP DNA sequences during long-term culturing. We were able to achieve retrovirus-mediated transduction of all three genes, but this was an inefficient process.