We have constructed a recombinant adenovirus that carries the herpes simplex virus type I gene for thymidine kinase (EC 220.127.116.11) and expresses thymidine kinase under control of adenovirus major late promoter. A DNA fragment carrying thymidine kinase coding sequences but lacking the thymidine kinase promoter was sandwiched between a piece of adenoviral DNA and simian virus 40 early DNA on a plasmid. The aligned fragment was then inserted into the adenoviral genome, replacing internal adenoviral DNA. Hybrid viruses carrying the thymidine kinase gene were obtained by selecting for viruses that express simian virus 40 tumor antigen (T antigen) in monkey cells. The thymidine kinase gene was positioned in the third segment of the adenovirus tripartite leader downstream from the major late promoter by in vivo DNA recombination between the duplicated adenoviral sequences present in the plasmid insert and the viral vector. Levels of thymidine kinase activity in human or monkey cells infected with this hybrid virus were several times higher than in cells infected with herpes simplex virus. Infected cells produced thymidine kinase protein at very high levels, similar to those found for adenovirus late major capsid proteins. The thymidine kinase protein represented 10% of the newly synthesized protein in late infected cells and accumulated to represent 1% of total cell protein under optimal conditions. This vector system offers a procedure by which a variety of gene products that are biologically active and properly modified can be produced at high levels in mammalian cells.