One strategy used for gene therapy of cancer is molecular chemotherapy. This approach is based on selective expression of an encoded toxin in cancer cells to achieve their eradication. One potential advantage of this strategy derives from a phenomenon, termed the bystander effect, whereby only a fraction of cells needs to be transduced to eradicate a tumor population. Despite the theoretical advantages of this phenomenon, it has only been described in a few cellular targets. Therefore, we undertook strategies to develop a molecular chemotherapy approach for ovarian carcinoma utilizing the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase (HSV-TK) gene. Initially, we established that human ovarian carcinoma cell lines could be transduced at high efficiency with adenoviral vectors encoding reporter genes. We next determined that the human ovarian cell line SKOV3 could exhibit bystander killing by stably transducing it to express HSV-TK and performing cell mixing experiments with varying percentages of HSV-TK-expressing and HSV- TK-nonexpressing cells. Based on these findings, we constructed a recombinant adenovirus encoding HSV-TK and utilized it to induce human ovarian carcinoma cell lines to the sensitizing effects of ganciclovir. In addition, primary cultures of ovarian carcinoma cells were found to be highly transducible with recombinant adenoviral vectors and could be induced to the sensitizing effects of ganciclovir after induction of HSV-TK expression by the adenoviral vector. These studies indicate that molecular chemotherapy using a recombinant adenoviral vector expressing HSV-TK may provide a rational strategy for human ovarian carcinoma. © 1995, American Association for Cancer Research. All rights reserved.