n-Butyrate (butyrate) has been shown to amplify transgene expression in cells infected with E1-defective adenoviruses. The present studies were undertaken in order to better define the actions of butyrate in the context of adenovirus gene expression, and to attempt to elucidate the mechanism by which butyrate mediates the transgene amplification. It was found that butyrate amplified viral transgene expression over a concentration range of 0.5-5 mM, and that the amplification required an exposure of 12-24 hr for maximal effect. Western blot analysis of representative viral proteins showed that butyrate treatment amplified DNA-binding protein, but not fiber protein. A transient adenoviral replication system suggested that butyrate had a modest inhibitory effect on replication of the E1-defective adenovirus. Use of a specific inhibitor of histone deacetylase, trichostatin A (TSA), reproduced the amplification of the viral transgene product achieved with the butyrate. In contrast, adenoviral transgene expression could not be amplified by TSA treatment in a cell line known to have a TSA-resistant histone deacetylase. Butyrate amplified steady-state gene expression of the viral transgene, but had no detectable effects on either DNA-binding protein or fiber steady-state gene expression. Nuclear run-off experiments showed that both butyrate and TSA caused an increase in the viral transgene transcription. It was concluded that inhibitors of histone deacetylase amplify adenoviral transgene expression at the transcriptional level.