Retroviral vectors integrate into the target cell genome in a stable manner and therefore offer the potential for permanent correction of the genetic diseases that affect the liver. These vectors, however, usually require cell division to occur in order to allow provirus entry into the nucleus. We have explored clinically acceptable methods to improve the efficiency of retroviral gene transfer to the liver, which avoid the need for liver damage. Tri-iodothyronine (T3) and recombinant hepatocyte growth factor have previously been used to induce hepatocyte proliferation in rat livers and allow in vivo retroviral gene transfer. We investigated the combined effects of these growth factors, with their differing mechanisms of action, on hepatocyte proliferation in vivo and assessed their effectiveness in priming cells for retroviral gene transfer. During the phase of hepatocyte proliferation retrovirus was administered via either the portal or tail vein. Acting synergistically, T3 and a truncated form of recombinant hepatocyte growth factor (dHGF) induced 30% of hepatocytes in normal rat liver to enter DNA synthesis at 24 h. This increased proliferation enabled the liver to be transduced in vivo by retroviral vectors via either the portal or peripheral venous system, achieving transduction efficiencies of 6.9 +/- 1.6% and 4.3 +/- 0.4% respectively. Thus, the liver can be simply and conveniently transduced in vivo with integrating vectors, introduced via the peripheral venous system during a wave of growth factor-induced proliferation, pointing the way to clinically applicable gene transfer techniques.