BACKGROUND Resistance to radiation and chemotherapy is a significant obstacle to the treatment of advanced bladder cancer. Gene therapy combined with radiation represents a new approach to cancer treatment. In the present study, we investigated whether adenovirally directed, cytosine deaminase (CD)/5-fluorocytosine (5-FC) gene therapy could induce cell toxicity and radiosensitization through the intracellular production of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) in bladder-cancer cells. METHODS Three human bladder-cancer cell lines, KK47 (wild-type p53+), T24 (p53 mutated) and 5637 (p53 mutated), were investigated. A recombinant adenovirus vector containing the CD gene (Ad-RSV-CD) was used. Cells were infected with Ad-RSV-CD and treated with 5-FC. Forty-eight hours after infection, the cells were irradiated and cytotoxicity assays performed to determine the extent of increase in in vitro cytotoxicity. A KK47 subcutaneous tumor-xenografts model was used in an animal study to examine the tumor growth inhibitory effect of this combination therapy. Ad-RSV-CD was directly injected into the tumor and daily 5-FC was intraperitoneally injected. Forty-eight hours after injection of Ad-RSV-CD, the tumor was irradiated. The tumor volume was measured every day. RESULTS In all three cell lines, the combination treatment enhanced the cell killing of human bladder-cancer cells in vitro. It also enhanced the tumor-growth inhibition in the KK47 tumor model. CONCLUSIONS In the present study, we demonstrated that CD/5-FC gene therapy combined with radiation therapy enhances cell killing of human bladder-cancer cells in in vitro and in vivo animal models.