We tested the efficacy of biolistic-mediated gene transfer as a noninvasive therapy for type 1 diabetes (T1D) in nonobese diabetic (NOD) mice by expression of murine interleukin 4 (mIL-4) cDNA. Epidermal delivery of 2 microg of DNA yielded transient detection of serum mIL-4, using a conventional cDNA expression vector. A vector stabilized by incorporation of the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) EBNA1/oriP episomal maintenance replicon produced higher levels of serum mIL-4 that persisted for 12 days after inoculation. Although biolistic inoculation of either vector reduced insulitis and prevented diabetes, the protracted mIL-4 expression afforded by the EBV vector resulted in Th2-type responses in the periphery and pancreas and more significant protection from the onset of diabetes. Our studies demonstrate the efficacy of biolistic gene delivery of stabilized cytokine expression as a viable therapeutic approach to prevent the onset of T1D.