Although clinical trials of stimulation of angiogenesis by transfection of angiogenic growth factors using naked plasmid DNA or adenoviral vector have been successful, there are still unresolved problems for human gene therapy such as low transfection efficiency and safety. From this viewpoint, it is necessary to develop safe and efficient novel nonviral gene transfer methods. As therapeutic ultrasound induces cell membrane permeabilization, ultrasound irradiation might increase the transfection efficiency of naked plasmid DNA into skeletal muscle. Thus, we examined the transfection efficiency of naked plasmid DNA using ultrasound irradiation with echo contrast microbubble (Optison) in vitro and in vivo experiments. First, we examined the feasibility of ultrasound-mediated transfection of naked plasmid DNA into skeletal muscle cells. Luciferase plasmid mixed with or without Optison was transfected into cultured human skeletal muscle cells using ultrasound (1 MHz; 0.4 W(2)) for 30 s. Interestingly, luciferase activity was markedly increased in cells treated with Optison, while little luciferase activity could be detected without Optison (P < 0.01). Electron microscopy demonstrated the transient formation of holes (less than 5 microM) in the cell surface, which could possibly explain the rapid migration of the transgene into the cells. Next, we studied the in vivo transfection efficiency of naked plasmid DNA using ultrasound with Optison into skeletal muscle. Two days after transfection, luciferase activity in skeletal muscle transfected with Optison using ultrasound was significantly increased about 10-fold as compared with plasmid alone. Successful transfection was also confirmed by beta-galactosidase staining. Finally, we examined the feasibility of therapeutic angiogenesis using naked hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) plasmid in a rabbit ischemia model using the ultrasound-Optison method. Five weeks after transfection, the angiographic score and the number of capillary density in rabbits transfected with Optison using ultrasound was significantly increased as compared with HGF plasmid alone (P < 0.01), accompanied by a significant increase in blood flow and blood pressure ratio (P < 0.01). Overall, the ultrasound transfection method with Optison enhanced the transfection efficiency of naked plasmid DNA in vivo as well as in vitro. Transfection of HGF plasmid by the ultrasound-Optison method could be useful for safe clinical gene therapy to treat peripheral arterial disease without a viral vector system.