Gene transfer into hematopoietic cells is currently being used to modulate immune responses, to protect hematopoietic cells against cytotoxic drugs or viral genes, and to restore gene deficiencies due to either inborn genetic defects or acquired loss of regular gene function. In particular, gene addition strategies for inherited severe combined immunodeficiencies (SCID) due to adenosine deaminase (ADA) deficiency or defects of the interleukin-2 receptor γ-chain represent potentially curative strategies based on gene transfer into hematopoietic cells using recombinant retroviral vectors. Since long-term correction of genetic defects in hematopoietic cells often requires transduction of hematopoietic stem cells, an effective gene transfer into stem cells with efficient long-term and multi-lineage transgene expression is the desired goal for these therapeutic strategies. However, gene transfer strategies with retroviral vectors unable to integrate into non-cycling cells are limited by the quiescent state of the stem cells that have to be stimulated by cytokines to induce cell cycle progression. To circumvent these barriers, lentiviral vector systems based on HIV-1 have recently been developed which are able to deliver and express genes in non-dividing cells both in vitro and in vivo. This review outlines the development and improvement of lentivirus-based gene transfer protocols and discusses the use of lentiviral vectors in preclinical gene therapy studies.