Recent research using rodent models of central nervous system gliomas indicates that a combination of gene transfer and drug treatment may be successful in killing tumor cells. In the present study, a mouse fibroblast-derived packaging cell line, psi 2, which releases a replication-defective retrovirus vector bearing the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV)-thymidine kinase (TK) gene, was grown with rat C6 tumor cells in the presence and absence of wild type Moloney murine leukemia virus (MoMLV). Consequently, tumor cells became sensitive to ganciclovir, which is selectively converted to a toxic nucleotide analog by HSV-TK. This killing effect was more effective in the presence than in the absence of wild type retrovirus both in culture and in subcutaneous tumors in nude mice. Tumors regressed in vivo and failed to regrow over a subsequent 10-day observation period after combined treatment with packaging cells, wild type MoMLV, and ganciclovir. This killing effect may be augmented by the ability of the helper retrovirus to package the vector in tumor cells and thus extend delivery of the HSV-TK gene to more tumor cells. This represents significant improvement in tumor therapy in this model system as compared with helper-free systems previously reported by the authors and others. Although additional improvements in the therapy can be envisioned, this approach may prove useful in combination with current modes of therapy for these insidious and lethal tumors.