The first human gene therapy experiment begun in September 1990 used a retroviral vector containing the human adenosine deaminase (ADA) cDNA to transduce mature peripheral blood lymphocytes from patients with ADA deficiency, an inherited disorder of immunity. Two patients who had been treated with intramuscular injections of pegylated bovine ADA (PEG-ADA) for 2 to 4 years were enrolled in this trial and each received a total of approximately 1011 cells in 11 or 12 infusions over a period of about 2 years. No adverse events were observed. During and after treatment, the patients continued to receive PEG-ADA, although at a reduced dose. Ten years after the last cell infusion, approximately 20% of the first patient's lymphocytes still carry and express the retroviral gene, indicating that the effects of gene transfer can be remarkably long lasting. On the contrary, the persistence of gene-marked cells is very low (< 0.1%), and no expression of the transgene is detectable in lymphocytes from the second patient who developed persisting antibodies to components of the gene transfer system. Data collected from these original patients have provided novel information about the longevity of T lymphocytes in humans and persistence of gene expression in vivo from vectors driven by the Moloney murine leukemia virus long-terminal repeat (LTR) promoter. This long-term follow-up has also provided unique evidence supporting the safety of retroviral-mediated gene transfer and illustrates clear examples of both the potential and the pitfalls of gene therapy in humans.