Abstract Progressive destruction of articular cartilage and bone is the pivotal problem of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Joint destruction is the cause of severe disability and determines the long-term outcome of disease. Conventional therapy does not control this destructive process sufficiently and the anti-rheumatic drugs available today can cause severe systemic adverse effects. Local application of chondroprotective and osteoprotective agents by means of gene therapy would be an attractive alternative to conventional therapy of RA and could provide long-term expression of the therapeutic agents and minimize systemic adverse effects. For this purpose, we have developed the concept of adoptive cellular gene therapy. This treatment strategy is based on using genetically engineered cells that home specifically to sites of autoimmune inflammation and thus allow local delivery of therapeutic gene products. Ex vivo transduction of these cells avoids systemic exposure of the host to the transgene-encoding vector and thus adds to the safety of this approach. In this article of the CIS Spring School in Autoimmune Diseases 2005 proceedings, we review our work on developing the strategy of adoptive cellular gene therapy and summarize recent advances in the evaluation of therapeutic effects and the identification of novel therapeutic targets.