We report that delivery of first-generation replication-deficient adenovirus (RDAd) vectors into primary human fibroblasts is associated with the induction of natural killer (NK) cell-mediated cytolysis in vitro. RDAd vector delivery induced cytolysis by a range of NK cell populations including the NK cell clone NKL, primary polyclonal NK lines and a proportion of NK clones (36 %) in autologous HLA-matched assays. Adenovirus-induced cytolysis was inhibited by antibody blocking of the NK-activating receptor NKG2D, implicating this receptor in this function. NKG2D is ubiquitously expressed on NK cells and CD8(+) T cells. Significantly, gamma-irradiation of the vector eliminated the effect, suggesting that breakthrough expression from the vector induces at least some of the pro-inflammatory responses of unknown aetiology following the application of RDAd vectors during in vivo gene delivery.