Exposure to wild-type adenoviruses is common in humans and results in immune response against adenoviruses. The pre-existing antibodies and a strong secondary humoral and cellular immune response would interfere with gene transfer using recombinant adenoviral vectors. To test whether the secondary immune response can be abrogated by oral tolerization to adenoviral antigens, we immunized bilirubin-UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (BUGT)-deficient jaundiced Gunn rats with a recombinant adenovirus (5 x 10(9) pfu/rat) expressing the human UDP-glucouronosyltransferase (BUGT1) gene (Ad-hBUGT). Transgene expression was shown by reduction of mean serum bilirubin levels from 7.0 mg/dL to 2.3 mg/dL in 14 days, which then increased gradually to pretreatment levels in 6 weeks. All recipients developed antibodies (1:2) and cytotoxic lymphocytes against the adenovirus. For oral tolerization, we administered to the immunized rats protein extracts of a recombinant adenovirus type 5 (1-1.5 mg/day) via duodenostomy tubes 10 to 40 days after the initial virus injection; control rats received bovine serum albumin. In rats fed adenoviral proteins and the BSA-fed controls, the antibody titers decreased to 1:2(7) and 1:2(9), respectively, in 70 days. Lymphocytes from the tolerized rats expressed TGF-beta1 upon exposure to antigen-presenting cells primed with adenoviral antigens, whereas IFN-gamma expression was undetectable. In contrast, lymphocytes from the BSA-treated control rats expressed IFN-gamma but not transforming growth factor beta1 (TGF-beta1). Seventy days after the first injection in the orally tolerized rats, but not in the controls, a second Ad-hBUGT injection caused human BUGT1 expression again, reducing serum bilirubin levels to those observed after the first injection. In the tolerized rats, serum antibody titers and anti-adenoviral cytotoxic lymphocyte activities continued to decline despite the second injection, whereas the antibody levels were boosted in the non-tolerized group. This results show that by preventing the secondary booster response, oral tolerization permits repeated adenovirus-directed gene transfer despite the presence of a residual antibody titer from a previous adenoviral exposure.