The restriction of viral receptors and coreceptors to the basolateral surface of airway epithelial cells has been blamed for the inefficient transfer of viral vectors to the apical surface of this tissue. We now report, however, that differentiated human airway epithelia internalize rAAV type-2 virus efficiently from their apical surfaces, despite the absence of known adeno-associated virus-2 (AAV-2) receptors or coreceptors at these sites. The dramatically lower transduction efficiency of rAAV infection from the apical surface of airway cells appears to result instead from differences in endosomal processing and nuclear trafficking of apically or basolaterally internalized virions. AAV capsid proteins are ubiquitinated after endocytosis, and gene transfer can be significantly enhanced by proteasome or ubiquitin ligase inhibitors. Tripeptide proteasome inhibitors increased persistent rAAV gene delivery from the apical surface >200-fold, to a level nearly equivalent to that achieved with basolateral infection. In vivo application of proteasome inhibitor in mouse lung augmented rAAV gene transfer from undetectable levels to a mean of 10.4 +/- 1.6% of the epithelial cells in large bronchioles. Proteasome inhibitors also increased rAAV-2-mediated gene transfer to the liver tenfold, but they did not affect transduction of skeletal or cardiac muscle. These findings suggest that tissue-specific ubiquitination of viral capsid proteins interferes with rAAV-2 transduction and provides new approaches to circumvent this barrier for gene therapy of diseases such as cystic fibrosis.