To evaluate the use of HSV-based vectors for arthritis gene therapy we have constructed a first-generation, ICP4 deficient, replication defective herpes simplex virus (HSV) vector (S/0-) and a second-generation HSV vector derivative (T/0-) deficient for the immediate-early genes ICP4, 22 and 27, each carrying a soluble TNF receptor or IL-1 receptor antagonist transgene cassette. A rabbit synovial-fibroblast line in culture, infected by either vector enabled high-level expression of the transgene product. However, following a single intra-articular injection of the vectors into rabbit knee joints, only the second-generation, HSV T/0- vector expressed detectable levels of soluble TNFR in synovial fluid. Synovial lavage fluid from inoculated joints con- tained up to 12 ng/ml of soluble receptor that persisted at detectable, but reduced levels for at least 7 days. When tested in an experimental model of arthritis generated by intra-articular overexpression of interleukin-1beta using retrovirus transduced synovial cells, the HSV T/0- vector expressing the interleukin-1 receptor antagonist was found to inhibit leukocytosis and synovitis significantly. The improved levels and duration of intra-articular transgene expression achieved via HSV-mediated gene delivery suggest that an HSV vector system could be used for therapeutic applications in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other joint-related inflammatory diseases.