Recombinant adenoviral vectors have recently been used to transfer genes into a number of different cell types in vitro and in vivo. A recombinant adenoviral vector bearing the Escherichia coli beta-galactosidase (beta-gal) gene was used to quantitate the frequency of hepatocyte transduction in the mouse after direct viral infusion into the portal vein. When 10(10) adenoviral particles were infused, over 95% of the hepatocytes were transduced in vivo as determined by x-gal staining. The transduction protocol is relatively safe in that there is no detectable helper virus production in transduced animals and that very few extrahepatic cells are transduced by this method. There is also no evidence of significant liver pathology unless substantially greater quantities of virus are used. However, the transduced hepatocytes do not appear to persist in vivo because the percentage of hepatocytes expressing beta-gal declined over time. Four months after the procedure, 0.5-10% of the hepatocytes contain detectable beta-gal activity in vivo. The change in beta-gal-positive cells correlates with decreasing amounts of adenoviral DNA. Thus, current recombinant adenoviral vectors may have clinical applications in gene therapy for acute hepatic disorders.