The ability to monitor reporter gene expression noninvasively offers significant advantages over current techniques such as postmortem tissue staining or enzyme activity assays. Here we demonstrate a novel method of repetitively tracking in vivo gene expression of firefly luciferase (FL) in skeletal muscles of mice using a cooled charged coupled device (CCD) camera. We first show that the cooled CCD camera provides consistent and reproducible results within +/-8% standard deviation from mean values, and a detection sensitivity (range tested: 1 x 10(4) - 1 x 10(9) plaque form-ing units (pfu)) of 1 x 10(6) pfu of E1-deleted adenovirus expressing FL driven by a cytomegalovirus promoter (Ad-CMV-FL). The duration and magnitude of adenoviral mediated (1 x 10(9) pfu) FL gene expression were then followed over time. FL gene expression in immunocompetent Swiss Webster mice peaks within the first 48 hours, falls by 98% after 20 days, and persists for >150 days. In contrast, FL activity in nude mice remains elevated for >110 days. Finally, transduced Swiss Webster and nude mice were sacrificed to show that the in vivo CCD signals correlate well with in vitro luciferase enzyme assays (r(2)=0.91 and 0.96, respectively). Our findings demonstrate the ability of the cooled CCD camera to sensitively and noninvasively track the location, magnitude, and persistence of FL gene expression. Monitoring of gene therapy studies in small animals may be aided considerably with further extensions of this technique.