The in vitro purification of pancreatic islets offers an opportunity for their modification by ex vivo gene transfer. We investigated the efficiency and functional consequences of adenovirus-mediated gene transfer into adult murine pancreatic islets with a recombinant adenovirus encoding for the beta-galactosidase (beta-Gal) reporter gene. At 10(6) pfu/islet, almost all of the islets were transduced, but maximal transduction was obtained at 10(7) pfu/islet. Histochemical analysis of frozen islet sections showed that transduced cells were only located at the periphery of islets. Transduced islets showed normal insulin secretion in vitro, and were able to normalize in vivo the glycemia of streptozotocin-induced diabetes in syngeneic and allogeneic mice. beta-Gal expression in transduced islets was observed for at least 6 weeks in naive normal recipients and in immunodeficient mice, but was shortened in mice preimmunized to adenovirus. Nevertheless, islets maintained normal control of glycemia in all mice. An early leukocyte infiltrate was observed in syngeneic grafts of transduced islets, but no acceleration in rejection of fully MHC-incompatible islet grafts occurred. In summary, adenovirus-mediated gene transfer in adult mouse islets, although sparing most of the beta-cells, was highly efficient and did not impair insulin secretion by islets. The immune response to the adenovirus and/or to the transgene might be only partially responsible for the decreased expression over time of the transduced gene. Accordingly, adenovirus-mediated gene transfer might allow efficient expression of vectorized sequences with potential immunosuppressive effects in the islet microenvironment.