p53 gene transfer has been proposed as a potential therapeutic option for treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Compared to other commonly used gene transfer vectors such as adenovirus and retrovirus, recombinant adeno-associated virus serotype 2 (rAAV2) has shown promising results in human clinical trials. Significant enhancement in the gene transfer efficiency is needed, however, for HCC applications. In the present study, we applied chemotherapy drug Doxorubicin (DOX) to induce rAAV2 transduction of hepatomas. Using reporter assays, we showed that the DOX-treated hepatomas became more susceptible to rAAV2 infection in comparison to untreated controls: the permissiveness increased >350-fold and >120-fold for HepG2 (p53 wild-type) and Hep3B (p53 null) hepatomas, respectively. Using the induced permissiveness, we applied rAAV2-p53 transduction to restore p53 expression in the p53-null Hep3B hepatomas. Compared to rAAV2-p53 transduction alone, rAAV2-p53 transduction with DOX resulted in a >16-fold induction of p53 expression. The transduced Hep3B expressed as much as 380% more immunoreactive p53 in comparison to the wild-type p53 expression in the HepG2 hepatomas. Significantly, when Hep3B cells were treated with 0.5 muM of DOX and rAAV2-p53 (MOI = 10) for twelve hours, the cell viability dropped to 66% four days after the administration. This decrease in cell viability was similar to that of treatment with 1 microM of DOX alone in the absence of rAAV2. The 50% reduction in DOX administration--from 1 microM to 0.5 microM--revealed the antitumor property of the rAAV2-p53 transduction as well as the joint cytotoxicity of DOX and rAAV2-p53 against the p53-null hepatomas. We conclude that DOX mediates the enhancement effect on rAAV2 transduction of human hepatomas. Combined DOX and rAAV2-p53 administration may facilitate more efficient treatment for the HCC caused by p53 mutations.