A variety of strategies have been attempted in the past to stably transduce natural killer (NK) cells with cytokine or other cellular genes. Here, we demonstrate the successful delivery of the interleukin-2 (IL-2) gene into two human NK cell lines, IL-2-dependent NK-92 and IL-2-independent YT, by retroviral transduction. An MuLV-based retroviral vector expressing human IL-2 and neor markers from a polycistronic message was constructed and transduced into a CRIP packaging cell line. By coincubation of NK cells with monolayers of CRIP cells or by using retrovirus-containing supernatants in a flow-through method, 10% to 20% of NK cells were stably transduced. Upon selection in the presence of increasing G418 concentrations, transduced NK cells were able to proliferate independently of IL-2 for more than 5 months and to secrete up to 5.5 ng/10(6) cells/24 h of IL-2. IL-2 gene-transduced NK-92 cells had an in vitro cytotoxicity against tumor targets that was significantly higher than that of parental cells and secreted interferon gamma (IFNgamma) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) in addition to IL-2. Moreover, the in vivo antitumor activity of IL-2 gene-transduced NK-92 cells against established 3-day liver metastases in mice was greater than that of parental nontransduced NK cells. Stable expression of the IL-2 transgene in NK cells improved their therapeutic potential in tumor-bearing hosts. Thus, transduced NK cells secreted sufficient quantities of bioactive IL-2 to proliferate in vitro and mediated the antitumor effects both in vitro and in vivo in the absence of exogenous IL-2. These results suggest that genetic modification of NK cells ex vivo could be useful for clinical cancer therapy in the future.