Ex vivo gene therapy of primary myopathies, based on autologous transplantation of genetically modified myogenic cells, is seriously limited by the number of primary myogenic cells that can be isolated, expanded, transduced, and reimplanted into the patient's muscles. We explored the possibility of using the MyoD gene to induce myogenic conversion of nonmuscle, primary cells in a quantitatively relevant fashion. Primary human and murine fibroblasts from skin, muscle, or bone marrow were infected by an E1-deleted adenoviral vector carrying a retroviral long terminal repeat-promoted MyoD cDNA. Expression of MyoD caused irreversible withdrawal from the cell cycle and myogenic differentiation in the majority (from 60 to 90%) of cultured fibroblasts, as defined by activation of muscle-specific genes, fusion into contractile myotubes, and appearance of ultrastructurally normal sarcomagenesis in culture. 24 h after adenoviral exposure, MyoD-converted cultures were injected into regenerating muscle of immunodeficient (severe combined immunodeficiency/beige) mice, where they gave rise to beta-galactosidase positive, centrally nucleated fibers expressing human myosin heavy chains. Fibers originating from converted fibroblasts were indistinguishable from those obtained by injection of control cultures of lacZ-transduced satellite cells. MyoD-converted murine fibroblasts participated to muscle regeneration also in immunocompetent, syngeneic mice. Although antibodies from these mice bound to adenoviral infected cells in vitro, no inflammatory infiltrate was present in the graft site throughout the 3-wk study period. These data support the feasibility of an alternative approach to gene therapy of primary myopathies, based on implantation of large numbers of genetically modified primary fibroblasts massively converted to myogenesis by adenoviral delivery of MyoD ex vivo.