Congenital pulmonary alveolar proteinosis (CPAP) is a fatal disease of full-term infants that is unresponsive to current medical therapy. It is now recognized that at least some forms of this disorder are associated with a deficiency of SP-B, one of the surfactant-associated proteins, as well as probable aberrations in the surfactant-associated proteins SP-A and SP-C. Given these developments, it is logical to hypothesize that CPAP may be amenable to gene therapy, in which the human SP-B cDNA, and possibly the cDNAs of the other surfactant associated proteins, are transferred to the epithelium of the lower respiratory tract. We constructed replication-deficient, recombinant adenovirus vectors in which a constitutive viral promoter drives the expression of the DNAs for the surfactant-associated proteins, SP-B (AdCMV.SP-B) and SP-A (AdCMV.SP-A). Following infection of the human lung A549 epithelial cell line with these vectors in vitro, the appropriately sized mRNAs for these cDNAs were detected, whereas cells infected with a control virus or uninfected cells produced none. Western blots demonstrated expression of these proteins, including appropriate processing of the hydrophobic protein, SP-B. Following in vivo intratracheal infection of rats with these vectors, Northern analysis of the lungs revealed appropriately sized mRNAs for these cDNAs whereas rats infected with control virus or uninfected rats show no hybridization with the human surfactant-associated protein probes. In the AdCM-V.SP-A-infected rats, Western blots confirmed the overproduction of the human SP-A protein in both the bronchoalveolar lavage and lung homogenates compared to controls. Thus, it is feasible to utilize adenovirus vectors to transfer and express the human surfactant associated protein cDNAs in vitro and in vivo, presenting a possible mode of therapy for CPAP, as well as other surfactant deficiency states such as the neonatal respiratory distress syndrome and possibly the adult respiratory distress syndrome.