We have used the tetracycline (tet)-regulated system as described previously to evaluate the applicability of controlled gene expression in cancer gene therapy. As a model gene, we used the human interleukin-2 (IL-2) gene, which has been placed under the transcriptional control of the tetO/promoter. Human melanoma cells were transduced by two modified retroviral tet vectors containing the transactivator regulatory unit and the IL-2 gene driven by the tetO/promoter, respectively. In the absence of tet, IL-2 expression in the target cells was stable over several months. IL-2 production was in the range of 40 U/10(6) cells/24 hours. A fine tuning of IL-2 expression could be achieved by culturing the transduced cells with increasing doses of tet, whereby a concentration of 500 ng/mL tet in the culture medium abrogated IL-2 expression. Most importantly for clinical application, IL-2 expression by the transduced melanoma cells could also be regulated in vivo. When nu/nu mice were inoculated with the transduced tumor cells, they failed to develop tumors. Instead, the inhibition of IL-2 expression in the transduced tumor cells by oral administration of tet led to subcutaneous tumor growth; this growth rate was comparable with the growth rate of subcutaneously inoculated untransduced parental cells. The finding demonstrates the applicability of the tet-regulated system in cancer gene therapy.