Adoptive antigen-specific immunotherapy is an attractive concept for the treatment of cancer because it does not require immunocompetence of patients, and the specificity of transferred lymphocytes can be targeted against tumour-associated antigens that are poorly immunogenic and thus fail to effectively trigger autologous T cell responses. As the isolation and in vitro expansion of antigen-specific lymphocytes is difficult, ‘conventional’ adoptive T cell therapy can only be carried out in specialized centres in small numbers of patients. However, T cell receptor (TCR) genes isolated from antigen-specific T cells can be exploited as generic therapeutic molecules for ‘unconventional’ antigen-specific immunotherapy. Retroviral TCR gene transfer into patient T cells can readily produce populations of antigen-specific lymphocytes after a single round of polyclonal T cell stimulation. TCR gene modified lymphocytes are functionally competent in vitro, and can have therapeutic efficacy in murine models in vivo. TCR gene expression is stable and modified lymphocytes can develop into memory T cells. Introduction of TCR genes into CD8+ and CD4+ lymphocytes provides an opportunity to use the same TCR specificity to produce antigen-specific killer and helper T lymphocytes. Thus, TCR gene therapy provides an attractive strategy to develop antigen-specific immunotherapy with autologous lymphocytes as a generic treatment option.