The introduction of adenovirus 5 E1A into the SKOV3ip1 ovarian cancer cell line was shown previously to suppress HER2/neu expression and reduce the malignant potential of these cells (Yu et al., Cancer Res., 53: 891-898, 1993). In this report, we show that reduction of p185 in cells stably expressing E1A protein was coincident with increased sensitivity to cytotoxic agents. The LD50 of cisplatin was reduced 6-fold, and the LD50 of paclitaxel and doxorubicin was reduced 10-fold in E1A-expressing cells compared with control cells. The growth of SKOV3ip1 and control cells was unchanged in the presence of 150 ng/ml of tumor necrosis factor-alpha, whereas the growth of E1A-expressing cells was reduced by 30 to 40%. When we used a physiologically obtainable concentration of paclitaxel (0.5 microM), DNA laddering consistent with apoptotic cell death was seen after a 24-h exposure in the E1A-expressing cells, whereas laddering and DNA fragmentation were only detected in DNA from control cells after longer exposure (48 h) at a 20-fold higher concentration of paclitaxel. The SKOV3ip1 cells do not express p53 protein; hence, the induction of apoptosis by paclitaxel is through a p53-independent pathway. Despite their diverse mechanisms of action, the cytotoxic effects of cisplatin, doxorubicin, paclitaxel, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha were enhanced by the expression of E1A proteins in the SKOV3ip1 ovarian cancer cells. This suggests that these agents share a common final pathway of cell killing, which may represent a potential therapeutic target in resistant ovarian cancers.