One of the major limitations in the use of cytosine arabinoside (Ara-C) in cancer chemotherapy is the hematopoietic toxicity produced by this nucleoside analog. One approach to overcome this problem would be to insert a gene for drug resistance to Ara-C in normal hematopoietic cells to protect them from drug toxicity. An interesting candidate gene for this aim is cytidine deaminase which catalyzes the deamination of Arac-C, resulting in a significant loss of its antineoplastic activity. We have ligated the human cDNA for cytidine deaminase into the plasmid vector pMFG. Transfection of NIH 3T3-derived GP + E86 murine fibroblasts cells with this vector resulted in a marked increase (> 50-fold) in the expression of cytidine deaminase. In addition, the transfected cells showed resistance to the cytotoxic action and to the inhibition of DNA synthesis produced by Ara-C. Northern and Western blot analysis of the transfected cells showed increased expression of mRNA for cytidine deaminase and increased immunologically detectable enzyme. The ability to confer drug resistance to Ara-C through gene transfer of cytidine deaminase may have the potential as a selectable marker and for the protection of the bone marrow from the toxicity produced by this analog so as to increase its effectiveness in cancer chemotherapy.