The avian skeletal alpha-actin gene was used as a template for construction of a myogenic expression vector that was utilized to direct expression of a human IGF-I cDNA in cultured muscle cells and in striated muscle of transgenic mice. The proximal promoter region, together with the first intron and 1.8 kilobases of 3'-noncoding flanking sequence of the avian skeletal alpha-actin gene directed high level expression of human insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in stably transfected C2C12 myoblasts and transgenic mice. Expression of the actin/IGF-I hybrid gene in C2C12 muscle cells increased levels of myogenic basic helix-loop-helix factor and contractile protein mRNAs and enhanced myotube formation. Expression of the actin/IGF-I hybrid gene in mice elevated IGF-I concentrations in skeletal muscle 47-fold resulting in myofiber hypertrophy. IGF-I concentrations in serum and body weight were not increased by transgene expression, suggesting that the effects of transgene expression were localized. These results indicate that sustained overexpression of IGF-I in skeletal muscle elicits myofiber hypertrophy and provides the basis for manipulation of muscle physiology utilizing skeletal alpha-actin-based vectors.