The main purpose of this study was to examine, for the first time, the ability of recombinant adenovirus to mediate gene transfer into cardiac myocytes derived from mouse embryonic stem (ES) cells differentiating in vitro. In addition, observations were made on the effect of adenovirus infection on cardiac myocyte differentiation and contractility in this in vitro system of cardiogenesis. ES cell cultures were infected at various times of differentiation with a recombinant adenovirus vector (AdCMVlacZ) containing the bacterial lacZ gene under the control of the cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter. Expression of the lacZ reporter gene was determined by histochemical staining for beta-galactosidase activity. LacZ expression was not detected in undifferentiated ES cells infected with AdCMVlacZ. In contrast, infection of differentiating ES cell cultures showed increasing transgene expression with continued time in culture. Expression in ES-cell-derived cardiac myocytes was demonstrated by codetection of beta-galactosidase activity and troponin T with indirect immunofluorescence. At 24 h postinfection, approximately 27% of the cardiac myocytes were beta-galactosidase positive, and lacZ gene expression appeared to be stable for up to 21 d postinfection. Adenovirus infection had no apparent effect on the onset, extent, or duration of spontaneously contracting ES-cell-derived cardiomyocytes, indicating that cardiac differentiation and contractile function were not significantly altered in the infected cultures. The demonstration of adenovirus-mediated gene transfer into ES-cell-derived cardiac myocytes will aid studies of gene expression with this in vitro model of cardiogenesis and may facilitate future studies involving the use of these myocytes for grafting experiments in vivo.